When 11 years old, Geoff bought a Kodak Starlet with money saved from digging the family vegetable garden. It was an extremely simple camera considering his grandfather used a ‘Rolls Royce’ Thornton Pickard, and his father had a state-of the-art Asahi Pentax. Clearly, his “Cloake’s Honey” family background introduced him to photography but his early artistic leanings came perhaps from his mother, a potter and leatherworker.
Born and bred in Timaru, Geoff’s first job on leaving school was as a cadet in the Post Office. He gained the New Zealand Certificate of Engineering and continued, at home and at work, to develop his artistic skills in freehand line drawing and some ‘poster’ painting.
Photography slotted in alongside his passion for tramping and rowing as a way of sharing his experiences with friends and family until the Starlet slipped form his pack on Mt Peel. Its replacement, a Kodak Instamatic slipped into the Huxley River and went rusty. A more serious solution was called for and the Olympus OM1 system, small and lightweight, became a treasure for three decades. Despite a specially made waterproof pack, successive items succumbed to the ardour of the mountains which caused many drownings over the years.
On secondment to Wellington with the Post Office in the early 1970’s, Geoff met more serious photographers, learned more advanced techniques and gained confidence from using them. Back home greater precision was demanded when he started taking colour slides. He also bought a second camera body (OM2) and darkroom equipment to specialise in black and white printing. Having joined the South Canterbury Photographic Society, he took part in many competitions, learning rapidly from the feedback he received and from discussions with other members. On one occasion, Ron Willems as judge asked to meet the author of a winning photo and he and Geoff have been close friends ever since, sharing many photographic excursions and experiences.
Ron encouraged him to enter bigger competitions and Geoff started to win in top national salons working in both colour transparency and print sections. He eventually became a judge himself. He then moved into processing Ektachrome E6 and Cibachrome prints, and started to explore alternative approaches to photography especially as an art form.
His work was exhibited in art galleries in the early 1980s and gained selection by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Art. This productive period culminated when, with his wife Marthy, he published a book, The Secret South Island (Heinemann, 1985), an overview of tramping in the South Island. The book was well received and well reviewed, and sold 3,000 copies. The demands of his growing family and career then restricted Geoff’s photographic interests to family events and outings.
Working for Watties at Washdyke Geoff progressed into senior management as a project manager and in 1987 took up an executive director’s post in the Government Regional Development programme, and was later appointed CEO of the subsequent Aorangi Business Development Board.
Redundancy in 1999 forced Geoff to reconsider his life ambitions. In his heart he knew he was an expressive person and decided to rekindle his photography. He cashed up and cleared away much of the clutter in his life, and established his own business development and marketing firm, Aoraki Development Ltd, which he now runs with his daughter Roselyn. The company is able to support the artistic endeavours of not only Geoff but also Roselyn who is a painter. Geoff and Roselyn are foundation members of Arts Canterbury Inc., formed to promote Canterbury Artists.
Film scanning and the digital age offered greater control over images and was catalyst to Geoff’ OUR LAND series of South Island panoramas – currently at 70. Having early mastered the personal computer he now revels in the very latest equipment and methods of photographic processing.
Landscape photography to Geoff is more about a search for unique ‘raw material’, the thrill of the hunt and capture of natural phenomena. By comparison the computer stage of the process is merely incidental for collecting and assembling all the pieces to yield high resolution images for fine manipulation until he reaches the stage where his feelings about each scene becomes fully satisfied. Despite all this, the final result still has to have the feel of a photograph and his ethic is to present a scene that could be truly seen if standing there in similar conditions. Observing a trend towards ’digital abstraction’, Geoff has come to think of himself as a ‘photo-realistic’ photographer. However, his feelings of awe for the land and very special atmosphere are paramount, and he will sacrifice reality for more emotional effects.
During a mishap with a deer fence his OM4Ti parted company with its base plate and attached monopod. Lashings of packaging tape held it together for several years until a new camera system could be justified. Today (with some encouragement from certain CPS members) Geoff is in heaven with his Canon EOS 5D and fast L series lenses. Ridiculously heavy and bulky compared to the Olympus system, he is fortunate to have a camera bag that includes “four wheel drive”. The vehicle also serves as a perch for seeing over fences and a notebook computer and GPS have become necessary additions. A 230 volt power supply helps charge all the batteries (and the making of good coffee).
With about 800 fine art prints and image rights sold, Geoff’s profile as a photographer and artist is well established in South Canterbury, becoming an asset to his business which in turn continues to ‘sponsor’ the next extension into the arts. Renewed effort is being put into photojournalism too, as he is also aiming for some exciting assignments in the future. Meanwhile, he is developing presentations and assisting with workshops to help others in the way that others have helped him.
Geoff opens up his grandfather’s old camera from time-to-time to wonder over a century of photography… and the distance it has carried him.
See here for my diary of presentations and exhibits.