Muriwai, 2013

The black sand. The water worn rocks. The steep cliffs. Offshore island.

Muriwai has for a long time been an important, yet mythical place for me. I had heard about it for a long time, but have never been there. Until recently, it had just been a well used name in Colin McCahon’s paintings. My early influence in art were McCahon’s text and black paintings, and through studying through his work and life, realised that Muriwai was a huge part of him, as he was of it.

So whilst visiting friends in Auckland, the opportunity arose to visit Muriwai beach. Upon arriving it was very obvious what I was going to do. I no longer make artworks like I used to, and instead have taken up a more serious liking to photography. I decided to use my new chosen medium to recreate some of McCahon’s paintings and drawings of Muriwai, 40 years after McCahon painted it. Each one was taken at the location, and I tried to keep the post editing to a minimum. Any editing that has been carried out on these photos to make them look like the painting has been done using relatively simple techniques. These ten frames are my photographic homage to Colin McCahon, and to Muriwai.

Muriwai, 1969; 2013

Muriwai, 1969; 2013 mccahon-muriwai-1969

Possibly not the exact spot that McCahon had intended from. The horizon line is a little higher, so it is possible that the painting is actually of the hills, rather than of the rocks. But the photo still works.

Muriwai no. 3, 1969; 2013

Muriwai no. 3, 1969; 2013. mccahon-muriwai-no-3

McCahon probably painted this one looking down at the black sand as the waves came in. I was out on the rocks for this one. I darkened the sky to mirror the painting a little better.

 Muriwai no. 6, 1969; 2013

Muriwai no. 6, 1969; 2013 mccahon-muriwai-no-6

This was one of the first photos I took in order to try and recreate one of the paintings. I like the relationship in the contrast between the solid rock, and the fluid water crashing against it. I decided not to push the photo too far into being the same as the painting, but let it hold it’s own.


 Muriwai no. 7, 1969; 2013

Muriwai no. 7, 1969; 2013 mccahon-muriwai-no-7

For this photo, I climbed up the sand dunes behind the beach. When I look at this painting, I see the black sand curved, and had to capture this in the photograph. The main thing missing is the darkened sky, which is created using post-processing.

Light falling through a dark landscape, 1971; 2013


Light falling through a dark landscape, 1971; 2013 mccahon-necessaryprotection-1971

This photo I had fun trying to recreate. It was all quite hard to get the sharp square edge in nature, and it was going to require a bit of luck to get a splash of “light” to enter into the stretch of rock out at Muriwai.

Low tide, Muriwai, 1972; 2013

Low tide, Muriwai, 1972; 2013  mccahon-lowtide-1972

This painting was done with some artistic license from McCahon, or it was done at night. Either way, it was something I couldn’t recreate with the photo. The iconic black used in McCahon’s paintings is directly linked to his ‘depression’, but also more literally for this painting to the black sand at Muriwai. So I used the black sand for the basis for this photograph and use parts of the water to help create the lines.

A5, 1973; 2013

A5, 1973; 2013 mccahon-A5

This photo was one I took as a back up for a different painting. But I found McCahon’s “A Series” to be very enlightening, and thought it appropriate to recreate it using the rocks that are out at Muriwai.

Kites at Muriwai, 1973; 2013

Kites at Muriwai, 1973; 2013 mccahon-kites

It seems funny that all those ago people were at Muriwai flying kites in the breeze, enjoying the summer sun. And on this day, 40 years later, people were still here doing the same thing. As we were leaving, two kites launched into the air. Originally I captured it to replace the “Jet” in McCahon’s other paintings, but I found this drawing, and it fits too well.

Oaia, Muriwai, Godwits, 1973;2013

Oaia, Muriwai, Godwits, 1972; 2013 mccahon-oaia-muriwai-godwits-1973

This one photo of Oaia Island was the only one that I could link into one of McCahon’s paintings. The rest of his artworks with this subject included pillar structures in them, and I had framed my sample photos all wrong for them to fit his paintings. However, I did find this one, and used some of the seagulls that I had shot to fill out the frame. I am quite happy with how the photo turned out. I also love McCahon’s drawing of this.

Jet out from Muriwai, 1973; 2013

A Poem for Muriwai Beach, 1973; 2013 mccahon-poemofmuriwaibeach

One of the first drawings I saw and remember of Muriwai appearing in McCahon’s work is in ‘Poem for Muriwai Beach, 1973’. It was only right then that this one photo I tried to get, more than any else. Unfortunately, there were no ‘Jets’ in the sky today, and so I had to capture one of the many seagulls that were flying over head. I am incredibly happy with how this turned out, even though the original painting depicts a cross as a symbol for an aeroplane in the sky.


Walking away from Muriwai I had a greater appreciation for the beach. I realised that I was just a little part of it’s history. It was awe inspiring driving down the road thinking that McCahon himself had probably travelled the same road many, many times before me to try and capture this same location I was going to photograph. It was a great exercise and I hope that it has somehow inspired you to look at landscape photography not just thinking about the location and what you see, but also seeing the scene in history and how others have depicted it.

One Tree, 2013

This weekend I had the opportunity to go up to the top of One Tree Hill, Auckland. Armed with my trusty camera, I decided to document the site, as well as tell the story that makes this photo somewhat more significant than a patch of parched grass looking out to a modern day metropolis. Hopefully, you too may come to appreciate this site as I did when I was up there.

One Tree, 2013

This was once the place of a tall and solitary tree. In fact, the last time I was here it towered and overlooked the city as it grows. It’s glorious branches stretching into the sky and it seemed to take on an aura more than just a tree. This was a tree that meant something. This was a tree on which the place took it’s name.

The site now stands lifeless – barren, missing.

Once a vibrant Māori pā, the largest and most important in New Zealand prior to European settlement, the site now is void of any of that. The plaque that embellishes the obelisk that is the only thing that marks this hill as anything important in the history of this city. The obelisk itself can be seen for miles around, and serves as much of a metaphorical tree as we are ever going to get in the near future.


The obelisk; in accordance of John Logan Campbell’s will was erected in recognition of his admiration of the Māori people is all that now stands on the top of this national landmark. Logan Campbell was one of the first European’s to settle in the area in 1840. He built the first house in Auckland, which still survives today, and became the Auckland mayor in 1901, where coinciding with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York at the time, donated Cornwall Park to the people of New Zealand. There is no doubt that the monument is an enduring symbol of the mutual respect of Logan Campbell and the Māori people and serves as a substantial reminder for us today.

More than One Tree

The tree was once a grand Tōtara tree. The pā was deserted when European’s settled in the area, and the tree is said to have been cut down by an English settler and used for firewood. Logan Campbell himself tried to regrow a variety of native trees on the hill, in order to try and rectify the mistake his fellow settler had made, but none survived in the harsh conditions of life at the top. Two pines that were planted to provide some shelter for the natives from the prevailing wind survived. One was cut down, once again, supposedly for firewood. Once again, one tree remained on the hill.


In an ironic twist of fate, the tree that Logan Campbell had established in order to apologise to the local Māori, now stood as a symbol of the oppression Māori activists say the New Zealand Government have inflicted on them in past years. The fact that it was a non-native pine deemed it inappropriate by some for such an important place for Māori. It was attacked with a chainsaw in October 1994, coinciding with the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of 1835. A second attack 6 years later in October, 2000, damaged the tree beyond recovery, and the Auckland City Council were forced to remove the tree safely before it caused any damage.

The Photo

My photo marks the location of the tree, on the edge of this hill overlooking the city. It used to lean, into the frame as it were, pointing towards the new landmark of the city, the Auckland Sky Tower (which can be seen in the city on the horizon). The barrenness of the foreground stands as a simple reminder of the empty feeling you get when you think of the history of this place. It was with complete sadness that I viewed the scene. Something was missing, it was quite obvious.

Twelve years have passed since it was cut down. And there is still debate as to what tree should be planted, and other Treaty of Waitangi claims by local iwi that is causing the delay in reviving this iconic spot. I hope that one day, one day not too far away, I might be able to return and photograph this location again with a slightly different view – maybe one with Pōhutakawa or Tōtara bark blocking out the city on the horizon, and the site can return to it’s peaceful resting state.

See the version of this photo.

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