On Flanders Fields ...

Murray arrived Tuesday and we've been incredibly busy in the days since then.  Then yesterday, the Belgian bloke joined us and we headed for Flanders Fields.

First stop was in Mesen (Messines, in French) where we caught up with the remarkable Steven Reynaert, a treasured friend and highly respected historian, he was able to give Murray a sense of the history of WW1 in and around the area.

We were photographed with the NZ Soldier before leaving Mesen, as per the first image.  Steven and Murray are there in the third image. 

The middle photograph captures another favourite friend of mine out there in the Westhoek.  Freddy Declerck is a truly special man and we were so fortunate in catching up with him in The Memorial Museum Passchendaele.

We had an early dinner in our favourite restaurant in Ieper - het Klein Stadhuis, as photographed below before rolling out the door and into the light drizzle, heading for the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony.  More to follow on that ...

It was a huge day.   It was a good day.

I Am A Reader ...

There's not much that gives me more pleasure than finding a really good book.

I have two 'suppliers' here in the Flemish city of Antwerp.  The first is De Slegte aan de Wapper, just a couple of doors away from Rubens House.  The second is more of a secret.  It's the place where I find quietly superb books for .25 cents to 1euro.

We hired a city car for a few hours today.  Jess had an appointment with the dental surgeon and we delivered her to the hospital.  Then the Belgian bloke who is on holiday, and I, slipped away to the secret book supply shop and voila, treasure was found.

We found 4 beautiful hardcover Roald Dahl books for Miss 10, printed in Nederlands.  Then I discovered Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storage (.50 cents), Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali (.75 cents), and The Colour of the Moon by Alkyoni Papadaki (1euro).

I love the randomness of secondhand bookshops.  I find so much treasure in them.  I just finished Tim Parks novel, Dreams of Rivers and Seas tonight.  I had loved his 'ethnographical' book titled A Season with Verona.  This fiction was something else.  Someone else's treasure, now my secondhand treasure.

But really, the reading is done on the trams mostly.  I was back on that early morning school run this morning.  Jess had her dental surgeon appointment today but turns out she can't have her wisdom teeth out until Thursday as there is an abscess which, combined with the pain of her teeth, is knocking her around something fierce. 

We were quite traumatised by our 5am ER visit and by the time she had been treated we didn't even dare ask which painkiller they'd IVed in to her, much less insist they might be wrong and that there was an abscess involved. 

We actually laughed as we walked out into Saturday morning afterwards ... that stunned ohmygoddidthatreallyhappen kind of laughter.  But today was an experience so opposite as to be surreal.  It was very healing and I confess, we were very very relieved.

So there is work to do and family to work around ... Gert has his appointment with a shoulder specialist on Thursday.  We're hoping he doesn't need surgery but it's not looking good.  He's been in much pain for 2 months now. 

My football team played a brilliant game in Italy last night.  I was glad not to be here.  The tension ... missed chances and the fact that they lost in the final minutes.  All this against one of the top teams. It might be an exciting season this season based on the exciting squad they've put together.

I was wandering out on Flanders Fields one frosty morning, with a small group that included then New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark.  I noticed these trees and stopped for a few moments, wanting to capture something of the light. 

The quote.  Justine Musk ... I enjoy her writing.


A Hangi in Belgium

I thought I could be tough on what was 'good enough' with this documentary-style series capturing the Hangi. But I'm finding that I want to include almost everything because all the photographs seem important to the story.

I realised that it's not just about cooking food in the ground, it's about the community that forms as people work together. And it was about the people who came and went during the process - it was kind of tidal, with different folk appearing at different stages.

But most of all, it was about the people who worked on it - those on a tour who saw help was needed and climbed into it with their experience from 'back home in NZ', with their strength, despite wearing boat shoes or white sneakers.

In the end it was all about the feeling surrounding the process ... it was quite staggeringly beautiful.

At the moment, I'm not sure one photograph captures it all. It's a story to be told with many photographs.

A Day ...

I'm off to Norway in August.  There's a photography workshop to run for the rather extraordinarily talented woman who is Ren Powell.

And there was an invitation to a Hangi too, in London.

However there are 137 documentary photographs from this day of labouring, 137 that I a really pleased with ... although there are 'quite some' to go.  I think it might be another night and day here in the chair.

Meanwhile ... I love this image of the Maori flag firmly planted in a Flemish field ...

And now, to cook some Persian chicken for dinner.


Today is all about processing the 400+ photographs I took out on Flanders Fields, in the village of Mesen, on the occasion of ANZAC Day

My grandfather was at Gallipoli, Turkey ... and later he was out on the Somme, in France, with his horse.  Whether he made it to Flanders Fields with the rest of the Otago Mounted Rifles, I don't know ... he was injured on the Somme and found the experience of war so appalling that he would rarely speak of it.

I went twice to Gallipoli, while living in Turkey.  The Turks have forgiven the invaders and actually take good care of the soldiers who fell there. In fact ...

Turkey became a republic in 1923 and Kemal became the first president. During his 15-year rule, many sweeping changes were introduced to the political, legal and socioeconomic fields. He was an immortal hero to his people and an extraordinary leader and peacemaker. Kemal said in 1933, "I look to the world with an open heart full of pure feelings and friendship". In 1934, he accepted the title "Atatürk" (father of the Turks).

In 1934 Atatürk wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed at Gallipoli:  Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

This shot was taken in Mesen, as the New Zealand navy greeted Bruce Simpson of Ngati Rana, the London Maori Club.


I met Lenn at the Peace Village, out on Flanders Fields, yesterday and asked if I might document the story of a New Zealand Hangi.

He said yes.

And what I didn't know was that it's as much about cooking the food as it is about the people involved ... and those drawn in when it comes time to share the food.

In the end I felt extraordinarily fortunate to be there for those hours and I felt my little Kiwi soul fill up and overflow with joy.

It was extraordinary.

Thank you, Lenn, for putting up with my camera and I.

The Hangi Blokes, Flanders Fields

I captured these kiwi blokes taking a well-earned break after finishing up work on the Hangi.

You really couldn't wish to meet nicer, harder-working, big-hearted, highly-amusing Kiwi blokes than these guys.  They simply impressed me ... and made me laugh more than once.

The Tino Rangatiratanga Flag

It’s been over 20 years since the birth of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag with Rangitaane Marsden citing its launch date as the 6th of February 1990.  Now it has been adopted by many and flies in places of significance across the nation.

Rangitaane Marsden says “the flag in a sense reflects the creation story but if you take it to another level black reflects the potential, red reflects the realities and white reflects the wisdom and illumination that come with a persons own individual being”.

Source: Māori News, the Origins of the Māori Flag.

I spent most of yesterday outside in a field near the Peace Village, photographically documenting a Hangi.

The image below was taken while they were still heating up to tiles used in the hangi pit.  It was a stunning fire ... one that burned so hard and so long.  I was fascinated.

Thank you, so much, to Lenn Krosschell and those helping him for allowing me to hang round and take photographs.

And there in the background, the Tino Rangatiratanga Flag blowing strong in that Flanders Fields breeze.


Ngāti Rānana, on Flanders Fields, Belgium


Ngāti Rānana London Māori Club aims to provide New Zealanders residing in the United Kingdom and others interested in Māori culture an environment to teach, learn and participate in Māori culture.

The three guiding principles of Ngāti Rānana are whanaungatanga (togetherness), manaakitanga (looking after one another/hospitality) and kōtahitanga (unity).

Source: the Ngāti Rānana website.

These guys were in Mesen/Messines this weekend and they touched the hearts of everyone who saw them perform.


The Island of Ireland Peace Park, Belgium


I think I'm almost cheating tonight.  It has been a day of a great many ideas but nothing that is ready to be written of and so, I'm going to post one of a series of my photographs appearing over on the Messines 1917 website run by two of my favourite folk here in Belgium.

Martin wrote: The Island of Ireland Peace Park with its distinctive 34-metre Celtic Tower and its evocative stones of remembrance, was opened on the outskirts of Messines 15 years ago in a ceremony that was hugely symbolic of not only the past but also the future.

The occasion on Armistice Day 1998 was the first public event at which a British monarch and an Irish president had officiated jointly. President Mary McAleese inaugurated the park in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HM King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians

There is so much more to read about the Peace Park over on the Messines 1917 blog and some more of my photographs too.  I'll leave that with you. 

Also, I didn't know it but Martin wrote, the Tower is designed so that the interior is lit by sun only at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.

The Poppy

My way of seeing involves using my 70-200mm lens in ways that most people wouldn't.

The bulk of my portraiture work is done with that telephoto lens.  The bulk of my photography actually ... I'm always a little bit sad when I have to change to a wider or more 'appropriate' lens.  I do it but only if I must.

I keep finding folders full of work I haven't really explored.  This was taken back in 2009, stored away, and not examined again until now.

A poppy in a garden in the city of Mesen, Belgium.

On Flanders Fields ...

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

- Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front 

I was feeling quietly devastated by the loss of life represented by the 1,000s of Commonwealth headstones we saw stretching out in all directions, on Friday, out there on Flanders Fields.

I'm always left imagining the ghosts of those brave and beautiful young men who believed they were saving the world when they agreed to fight in the 'Great War' ... I imagine them standing round as we visit their graves, and I wonder how many are bitter.

And then a butterfly arrived on the flowers in front of one those tombstones.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does a magnificent job in taking care of the memories of all those who died.  The flowers, the closely-mown lawns, the pristine white headstones.

Dead but not forgotten.  Never ... Meanwhile our governments go on creating new wars, borders and boundaries.  I suspect nothing was learned.

An Old Friend from Far-Away ...

We met at Taieri High when we were 13 but didn't start talking till we were 14.  Then we talked a bit.  Some evenings on the phone, the old dial-style phones, plugged into the wall.  His father or mine occasionally threatening death as the phone lines were blocked.

We were discussing serious things and the world.

David was another much-loved old friend from those days.  And, occasionally, I took photographs of them on their bikes with that very first camera of mine.  I remember the time Dave deliberately spilled tomato sauce over that shot of him landing badly after some kind of jump at the Brick and Sand quarry.  We were in the midst of a post-motorcross pile of fish 'n chips at the time.

I still have those photographs in storage back home in New Zealand.

Paul arrived here in this Belgian world last weekend, fresh from his advanced para-gliding course in Doussard.  That place where Gert and I had so enjoyed staying.  Paul showed us the video footage of the stalls they had to practice ... heart-stopping moments where the 'chute' lost air and needed correcting.

Like us, he raved about the scenery, the mountains.

This last week has been a week where two old friends from smalltown New Zealand wandered in Europe. We visited The Somme, finding the grave of his great-great-grandfather.

I introduced him to Antwerp where he hunted down the wrought iron and he, perhaps without realising it, gifted me a new view on the city.  We checked out coffee and wine places, I introduced to more than a few beers that were 'a bit malty'.  I laugh as I write that ... I'm not the best beer advisor when an Aussie bloke knows what kind of beer he prefers.

He forgave me, I think.

I insisted he visit Flanders Fields where we were fortunate enough to catch up with both of my favourite Belgians down there in the Westhoek.  Modest experts in their areas of knowledge.  Steven found some more information on a WWI relative Paul had been curious about, and a book about the Otago Mounted Rifles.  It seems that Paul's Alfred William Johnson was in the same battalion as my grandad, George Gidion Murray.

Locating the book seems to be another story and I've had to write off to the Westhoek to check that I have the right title.  I do believe it's a book I'd quite like to read.

But enough, here's a photograph I took for both David and Fiona ... we wished them both here.  Liz too.  Remember those days ...

A little more on documentary photography

I wanted to come back to documentary photography once more and just say, never stop watching.  For me, it's a little like hunting ... perhaps. 

I don't go in with a plan beyond the attempt to capture the story.  To tell it true.  I picked up a 3-day documentary shoot, over on Flanders Fields, working with the New Zealanders a few years ago.

The image that follows is one of my favourites and I have to confess, it really was about swinging round and capturing this exquisite moment without thinking too much about settings.  A hongi ... a Maori greeting, was being exchanged. 

I had been traveling in France with the New Zealand veterans the day before and so they knew me a little. The New Zealand London Rugby Club were playing a commemoration match in Zonnebeke. 

Moments like these make documentary photography a big love of mine ...



Out on Flanders Fields ...

And the struggle to return to Belgium continues ...

Belgians are all surprised by, and talking of, the long grey sunless winter continuing on into February.

Did I mention ... no sun, tons of greyness, and loads of pollution as all of Europe passes by us on our highways?

Anyway I've been busy.  I photographed the most delicious Belgian wedding on Saturday.  Truly lovely people and I hope to get permission to post some of those images soon but Sunday and Monday ... Oh My!

I was back out on Flanders Fields attending the reburial of a WW1 soldier from New Zealand ... he was recently discovered and although they did all that they could, and came close, they were unable to identify him for sure.

But where to begin because it was about so much more ...

Saturday night, just after the wedding, there I was at Central Station in Antwerp waiting for the talented London-based New Zealand, soprano Carleen Ebbs.  Gert and I spent a enjoyable evening with her before Martin, from the blog Messines 1917 picked us up, early Sunday morning.  We were heading off to  Flanders Fields, through snow, to participate in the reburial of the New Zealand world war one soldier.

The moment was captured by Belgian television (I am there at around 8 seconds, completely oblivious to the cameraman, as I planned my next shot).  New Zealand television was there too.  I only appear in the Belgian clip  and had to laugh, as I had no idea I was being filmed but do have a photograph of the cameraman filming me ... I discovered it today.  I was photographing someone near him.

But first there was Sunday, the day before the reburial.  Martin OConnor and I went wandering with some New Zealanders based in London.

It felt like a time of privilege as we were introduced to a little Maori history and protocol and I was allowed to photograph this man as he made his way through the cemeteries.

Anyway, below is a random series of photographs taken over those two days ...

Tot later!