Remembering renowned photographer Ans Westra

Thursday 2 March 2023

Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University joins with staff, students and council members in acknowledging the loss of renowned photographer Ans Westra.

Photographer Ans Westra was a pioneering documentary photographer who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the university in 2015.

Ans Westra was a friend and colleague to many Massey staff, particularly staff within Toi Rauwhārangi College of Creative Arts (CoCA). As a documentary photographer, she was a vital touchstone to generations of students who came through degrees within CoCA, including the Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Design (Photography) and postgraduate courses.

Ans came to Aotearoa New Zealand in 1957 from The Netherlands when she was 21-years-old, very soon discovering the possibilities a camera offered a young Dutch woman to move through and interact with very different social and cultural worlds existing in New Zealand at that time.

She produced many well-known images of Māori, some of which have been a catalyst for discussions about imaging of Māori, about the place of documentary photography within process of self-determination, about the relationship between the photographer and subject and the complexities of imaging the ‘other’.

Her photographs are held in public art collections in New Zealand, Australia and further afield. The international reach of her work was strengthened through the richly researched and curated touring exhibition Ans Westra Photographs (accompanied by the book Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs), which toured to the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden, the Netherlands and extensively around New Zealand.

Professor of Fine Arts Heather Galbraith says Ans was a familiar sight around Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

“She supported and engaged with communities of makers in the arts and could be seen documenting a broad range of social and political gatherings around the city, alongside her trips all around the motu in her trusty station wagon.

“Ans was one of our most senior photographers in Aotearoa, and her body of images, created over a period 60 plus years, are an extraordinary and seminal record of the everyday lives of people of Aotearoa during a period of great social and cultural change.”

She was awarded the Companion of the Order of New Zealand Merit for services to photography in 1998 and was announced as an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon artist in 2007.

The university awarded Ans Westra an Honorary Doctorate in 2015 in recognition to her extraordinary contribution to art, photography and visual culture of Aotearoa.

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