Images born of early starts and treks
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.