Monday 1 October 2012

An appreciation of John Pascoe

If I tallied up all the time I have spent trawling through the National Library's digitised image collections and then visualised where that time was spent, the biggest bubble would have to belong to photographer John Dobree Pascoe.

Born in Christchurch in 1908 (the elder of twin boys - his brother Paul would grow up to become an important architect) from his early 20s Pascoe was a keen mountaineer (and a less-than-keen clerk in his family's law firm). He discovered a talent for photography when he began making records of routes and tracks using a camera.

In the 1930s Pascoe moved to Wellington. In 1937 he wrote to Joe Heenan, under-secretary at the Department of Internal Affairs looking for work. Heenan eventually made him the illustrations editor for the 30-part Centennial series Making New Zealand. In 1942 Heenan appointed Pascoe as an official war artist, and he travelled the country documenting New Zealanders' wartime life.

Pascoe had a long career with DIA, as well as publishing as a photographer and writer in his own right, including being the founding secretary of the Historic Places Trust and as chief archivist at the National Archives. Pascoe was still in this role when he died in Christchurch in 1972.

Pascoe's iconic images are ... iconic, especially from the war era. There's his strapping physical education instructors

John Pascoe, Female trainee physical education instructors, Hutt Valley, Wellington, March 1944. Alexander Turnbull Library
his landgirls

John Pascoe, Land girl, Carol Sladden, having a cigarette, Mangaorapa, Hawke's Bay, 1943. Alexander Turnbull Library.
and his photos of the returning Maori Battalion.

John Pascoe, Joseph Takuta, 1946. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Perhaps less well known - but I think equally deserving of iconic stature - are his photographs of the Japanese prisoner of war camp in Featherston

John Pascoe, Maori guard and prisoner at the Japanese prisoner of war camp near Featherston, 1943. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Me, I've always had a deep fondness for the series of photos taken at Manuka Point Station in the high country

John Pascoe, Laurie Walker and horse, Manuka Point Station, 1943. Alexander Turnbull Library
But if I was going to pick one photo - just the one - to transport myself into, it might be this scene at Easy Bay, Arapawa Island, one of a number of photos associated with mail launches that I find deeply appealing.

John Pascoe, Jetty at East Bay, Arapawa Island, c.1945. Alexander Turnbull Library.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is there an exhibition in here somewhere. maybe touring?