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.