Images born of early starts and treks

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS - By MAR­JORIE COOK See it:

Joseph Michael is like any or­di­nary Cen­tral Otago ad­ven­turer.

He lugs 25 kilo­grams of gear on week-long hikes into the back coun­try, gets up at 4am to chase auro­ras, sleeps rough un­der the stars and has a rea­son­able stock of snow storm sur­vival sto­ries.

Although he now lives in Auck­land, the 33-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher and cine­matog­ra­pher can­not, in­deed does not want to, shake Cen­tral Otago from his sys­tem.

‘‘Gra­hame Syd­ney has be­come quite a good friend in the last few years. You can’t help but be in­flu­enced by his work grow­ing up in the re­gion. But I guess the out­doors was the thing that in­flu­enced me the most. You don’t re­alise un­til you get older and move to the cities . . . I am con­stantly try­ing to find work that gets me back into the land­scape,’’ he said.

Michael was born in Ran­furly ‘‘be­fore the hos­pi­tal was closed’’ and grew up with the Man­iototo plains on his doorstep.

His fam­ily moved to Dunedin – he is one of six sib­lings – and later Michael spent time living and work­ing over­seas be­fore set­tling in Auck­land.

His par­ents still have a house in Naseby, there are cousins still in the area and he tries to head south three or four times a year.

Michael has his own pro­duc­tion com­pany, Fluke Cre­atives, but has worked for other pro­duc­tion out­fits in the past. His work his­tory ranges from com­mer­cial shoots for out­door out­fit­ters, mu­sic videos, films and doc­u­men­taries ( The Hob­bit; Avatar; Me, You, Mankosi;) and fully im­mer­sive multi-me­dia art in­stal­la­tions.

Dark Cloud White Light is in the lat­ter genre, com­bin­ing time­lapse photography, 3D film, land­scape and com­mis­sioned mu­sic.

It de­buted at Porirua’s Pataka Art Mu­seum in 2013, at­tract­ing 80,000 vis­i­tors, be­fore be­ing shown at Auck­land’s Silo Park Gallery in 2014, pulling in at least 40,000 more vis­i­tors, and is now at Wanaka’s Lake Wanaka Cen­tre un­til Mon­day April 27.

A sec­ond ma­jor in­stal­la­tion is now in the pipe­line, with Michael choos­ing to study Antarc­tica through the lens. He re­turned from a six-week ocean ex­pe­di­tion from South Amer­ica to the ice con­ti­nent just three weeks ago and is ten­ta­tively sched­ul­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion next year.

Pa­trons and spon­sors fig­ure highly in the artist’s life, af­ter tak­ing a friend’s ad­vice to take him­self se­ri­ously and strike out on his own ac­count.

Michael said his friend told him to fo­cus on his own work as much as he did on work for oth­ers. Although he has not dis­counted get­ting back on board with oth­ers in the fu­ture, he says his friend was right.

‘‘If you take your­self se­ri­ously and do the projects you love, it all be­comes easy . . . But I was fo­cus­ing on a job rather than do­ing the projects I en­joyed and loved. As soon as you start to do your own work, peo­ple start to take no­tice,’’ he said.

‘‘Dark Cloud White Light was re­ally dif­fi­cult to get off the ground. Luck­ily Nikon ap­proached me and said they loved my work. They said you can have any cam­era you want and gave me this amaz­ing cam­era to use.

‘‘We lit­er­ally trav­elled all around the South Is­land in a camper­van . . . and a lot of the shots are from all around Wanaka, up the Matuk­i­tuki Val­ley and in Fiord­land.’’

Michael works some wacky hours and if he­li­copter ac­cess is not avail­able, he’ll walk.

He has spent sev­eral years chas­ing auro­ras in South­land and is con­stantly get­ting alerts on the best places and times to cap­ture night sky light dis­plays.

‘‘It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to get up at 4am but that’s the best time to get im­agery,’’ he ex­plains.

‘‘The long­est tramp we did [to get Dark Cloud White Light images] could not be more than seven days be­cause we were car­ry­ing so much gear . . . The most dif­fi­cult and the shoot I love the most in the ex­hi­bi­tion is in the Route­burn. We flew down to Queen­stown from Auck­land and there was a front com­ing through and we were try­ing to get it done be­fore it came.

‘‘We were try­ing to get a 24 hours sec­tion, but it would snow and then it would rain and we were fight­ing to pro­tect the gear, and then we ran out of food, and then lights and bat­ter­ies. But we man­aged to get our 24-hour loop.’’

Any sense of cel­e­bra­tion at that mo­ment was tem­pered by the knowl­edge he would not know if the loop was any good un­til he got into the pro­duc­tion stu­dio.

Michael says the lack of cer­tainty is ‘‘the beauty of time­lapse photography’’.

Miss­ing the mo­ment is the pho­tog­ra­pher’s lot and of­ten some­thing amaz­ing will hap­pen when he is not ready.

Fes­ti­val of Colour, Lake Wanaka Cen­tre, 10am-7pm April 21-27 2015.

Ad­mis­sion: gold coin.

Kapowairua Spir­its from Dark Cloud White Light, a time lapse photography ex­hi­bi­tion by Joseph Michael.

Auck­land pho­tog­ra­pher Joseph Michael.

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