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Sport 11: Spring 1993

New Zealand in Black and White

page 145

New Zealand in Black and White

‘The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.’


‘Though Mr Baxter’s works coffer a wide Weld, he writes always and primarily as a New Zealander; and for this reason his comments on the photographic sequence New Zealand in Colour are of special value.’

(Flyleaf, New Zealand in Colour, Reed 1961)

Baxter’s world had clearly defined borders—it was enclosed within a ‘world view’, a personalised frame through which he looked. It is not a floating world like, say, that of Bernadette Hall or Joanna Paul. Whereas they are inclined towards a broader and less morally assertive position, Baxter always wanted to manipulate his material—the inclusion and exclusion of it—to attain a predetermined end. He was concerned with creating a coherent universeone ordered by humankind and the Deity, one with a speciWc meaning and morality.

It’s ironic that Baxter—the moralist whose universe was divided into black and white—in 1961 wrote the text for a picture book called New Zealand in Colour.

black and white image

Not surprisingly, Baxter isn’t content to do as the book’s introduction states and ‘let the photographs tell their own story’. On the first page he’s already coming on like an antipodean William Blake: ‘A City of a kind has been made. The hydro-electric dams at Roxburgh or Mangakino, the productive farms in place of endless tussock or bush, the tidy townships, the suburbs that climb hill-slopes towards the sun, and the honeycomb of factory and office buildings where each man has his appointed job under the eye of the clock—these are the works of the City, finite, exact and reasonable, page 146 designed for the fulfilment of limited aims . . .’

The moralist and social critic in Baxter never rest. Even when describing the rustic world of the farmer, he hastens to add that ‘the farmer may own a new Zephyr and his wife may attend adult education classes in the nearest town’.

Of ‘the recurring colours of sky and water’, he chips in, ‘they stand perhaps for what can only be known through silence and patience—a lucidity which man stands outside, an order greater than the human one’. In fact, Baxter usurps the benign intention of the scenic picturebook by saying: ‘In a sense our sequence is made to direct your attention to this world in which we live but to which we so rarely belong.’

The harshness of the poet’s inner landscape might have been able to coexist with the tourist vistas of the scenic wonderland, but only temporarily and in a somewhat strained fashion.