The Empty Land: Elroy Rosenberg: New Zealand

…I was driving through the (New Zealand) South Island, with nowhere really to go, other than a start and an end point and 10 days to get from one to the other.

 

Name: Elroy Rosenberg
Occupation: Photographer
Hometown: Melbourne
Location: New Zealand

Jack Kerouac once wrote in his story Alone on a Mountaintop that ‘no man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude’. It was, for Kerouac, the best way of ‘finding [one]self’.

I recently took a small two-week vacation along grey and winding roads through New Zealand’s South Island. The trip came to fruition when I realised that I simply needed a break, that I needed time alone, time to think, endless hours to think in fact – a rare commodity in the busyness of everyday existence. So as soon as I knew when my semester was to be finished, I booked my flight to Christchurch.

Most of my time was spent on the road, bar the days spent in Christchurch to begin and Wellington, via the ferry, to end. For the rest of the two weeks I was driving through the South Island, with nowhere really to go, other than a start and an end point and 10 days to get from one to the other. Thus was my life for two weeks: swerving along Lindis Pass, sneaking through Mount Aspiring National Park, walking to the glaciers, sleeping in the passenger seat by Lake Wanaka, gliding past the sun setting along the west coast, pulling over to take photos, living out of my pack and the back seat; it was everything I needed.

What makes New Zealand perfect for this sort of trip is its emptiness. You traverse empty roads and pass through empty fields, you stop at empty campsites and hike along empty paths, you are alone for so much of the time that you have no choice but to mine your mind. This sort of landscape is not only meditative, but proved ideal for my photography. My Canon AE1 is probably my most essential travel companion, and given my instinctive tendency wherever I am to shoot areas where the natural world and the constructed world intersect, the camera had plenty of use on the South Island.

As visible in the images, New Zealand finds itself at the crossroads of identity: small suggestions of suburbia and the man-made are scattered within vast expanses of untouched nature. As attractive a tourist destination the Lord of the Rings films make of the South Island, it is truly astounding how powerful the landscape is – which is what makes the melding in of ‘civilisation’ so fascinating to me. Within the South Island I talked to numerous locals, some from distant countries and some from half an hour down the road. Yet no matter their point of origin, and most interestingly, no matter whether a city-liver or country born-and-bred, almost all seemed to hit upon the same point: that New Zealand provides a simple life, not because anyone necessarily wanted it that way, but because the natural surroundings make life simple and no one would ever change that.

For me, photography is therapeutic, and indeed it helped me calm myself during this two-week period in strange solitude. And the beauty of New Zealand, of its lands, of the people I came across, of its unassuming lifestyle, ought to spark an amazement and an unspeakable sense of wonder in even the most belligerent person. I hope that I have done the country justice in these images.

 

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