Kim Knight talks to pho­tog­ra­pher Gill Hanly about putting a face to fe­male protest

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Kim Knight talks to pho­tog­ra­pher Gill Hanly about putting a face to fe­male protest

If a protest hap­pened and Gil Hanly wasn’t there to pho­to­graph it, did that protest hap­pen?

See the women’s move­ment in black and white and hand-let­tered ban­ners. Stamp out rape and mur­der. Keep men off the streets. Nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment now. Pro­tect the fu­ture. Hanly is in­vis­i­ble be­hind the cam­era but her lens sharp­ens the faces of the thou­sands who march.

“A lot of the time — I would say al­most all of the time — Gil was the only one pho­tograph­ing what that 1970s and 80s move­ment was do­ing,” says fem­i­nist his­to­rian Anne Else.

“She went to all the demon­stra­tions and pa­rades. She did take a lot of trou­ble to doc­u­ment the move­ment that was go­ing on and, 99 per cent of the time, she was the only per­son who did. It was like women didn’t count.”

An Auck­land Mu­seum suf­frage an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion asks, “Are we there yet?” Hanly’s pho­to­graphs loom large. Dame Whina Cooper at Wai­tangi. An Aotea Square sit-in af­ter a 6-year-old girl’s mur­der. The women’s anti- nu­clear march. A re­claim the night demon­stra­tion down Karanga­hape Rd. Del­e­gates at the Maori Women’s Con­fer­ence. A group shot of the women who pub­lished the fem­i­nist mag­a­zine, Broad­sheet.

“If the name puts you off all that much, don’t buy it,” wrote Else in the in­au­gu­ral July 1972 is­sue. “Be­cause the con­tent prob­a­bly won’t be your cup of tea ei­ther.”

Forty-five years ago, Broad­sheet’s Septem­ber is­sue in­cluded a “fem­i­nist di­ary”. News snip­pets: Sup­port for changes to the Po­lice Of­fences Act to al­low un­der-16s ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tive ad­vice. An amend­ment to the Rent Ap­peals Bill mak­ing it an of­fence for land­lords to refuse to let a house on the grounds the tenant had chil­dren. A state­ment from the meat in­dus­try that it would wel­come “fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion” now that male worker prej­u­dice was de­clin­ing.

New Zealand women won the vote in 1893 but by 1970, only 11 had ever be­come MPs. Te

Ara — the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of New Zealand de­votes nine sec­tions to gen­der in­equal­ity. Un­til 1972, mar­ried women who en­tered the work­force were taxed at a higher rate than their hus­bands, be­cause their in­come was “sec­ondary”.

No fe­male-made fea­ture films were pro­duced

un­til the 1980s. A New Zealand en­cy­clo­pe­dia from 1984 con­tained 156 pho­to­graphs of men (in­clud­ing 15 All Blacks), 19 pho­to­graphs of sheep and just 16 of women. Are we there yet? Ear­lier this year, the Black Ferns — the women’s rugby play­ers that have won five out of six of their World Cups — were of­fered semipro­fes­sional con­tracts for the first time. Also this year: Kieran Read, All Blacks cap­tain, earned a re­ported $1m.

Else re­calls the coun­try’s 100th an­niver­sary of women’s suf­frage in 1993.

“There was this ter­ri­ble at­tack — ba­si­cally on women — for ac­tu­ally get­ting some money from the Gov­ern­ment to cel­e­brate. There was a pe­riod there when there was ‘girls can do any­thing’ and that stuff, but re­ally, very lit­tle had hap­pened.”

Ac­cord­ing to Else, main­stream news­pa­pers would oc­ca­sion­ally send some­one to cover a protest, but usu­ally only “so they could sling off about it, or crit­i­cise it”.

“Gil’s ar­chive is in­valu­able be­cause there would be no record if she hadn’t taken all those pho­to­graphs.”

Hanly’s house is hid­den in a gar­den. Lush and drip­ping. West Coast bush come to the city. “I’m freez­ing,” she says quite cheer­fully. “There’s a heat­wave in Europe.” She’s just back from France, a grand­child’s wed­ding and gar­den tours. Life is busy. The first time we came to do this in­ter­view, she’d for­got­ten us and gone to Pi­lates in­stead.

Through the kitchen with its lime green walls and the huge paint­ing by her late hus­band, Pat, and out the back door. In a shed-meets-stu­dio there is a floor-to-ceil­ing wall of books Hanly has con­trib­uted to. An arm­load of lemon ver­bena dries in the weak win­ter sun. She sits at a round ta­ble that be­longed to her grand­mother.

“My bloody fa­ther banged some nails into it try­ing to re­store it, and I don’t think he did it much good. It used to be in ... not the draw­ing room, but the re­lax­ing room, where ev­ery­one sat around and had cups of tea. It had a big cloth over it. When we were kids we used to climb un­der it and lis­ten to all the talk. I didn’t take photos, but I lis­tened to every­thing.”

Hanly, now 85, was raised on a sheep farm in Ran­gi­tikei. In 1913, her fa­ther was study­ing medicine and had a schol­ar­ship to Cam­bridge Univer­sity.

“The war broke out, and he joined up and he spent four years ... Flan­ders, Gal­lipoli, Africa, what­ever. And at the end of the war, he could have gone back and fin­ished his med­i­cal de­gree, but he just thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go home. I’ll go farm­ing.’

“I grew up on a farm, but my fam­ily were al­ways wor­ried about what was hap­pen­ing in the com­mu­nity. It car­ries on a bit. My daugh­ter has writ­ten six books on bilingualism. My grand­daugh­ter’s at bFM, do­ing amaz­ing in­ter­views and other things.

“I think women have be­come much more sure of them­selves th­ese days, and they’re more in­clined to take ac­tion, to ac­tu­ally make things hap­pen and make change — but they’re still in­ter­ested in com­mu­nity, and get­ting peo­ple talk­ing and to­gether and sort­ing things through.”

Gil (with a hard “G”) Tav­erner went to the

I took photos and gave them to who­ever I thought would use them and make a dif­fer­ence. Gil Hanly

Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts. (If she’d stayed home, she says, “I might have had to knuckle down and marry a lo­cal farmer. No thank you.”)

She met the painter Pat Hanly. Post-grad­u­a­tion, the pair ex­hib­ited with Bill Cul­bert in a show called Three Can­ter­bury Artists. Gil and Pat went to Europe, got mar­ried, had chil­dren, made a life back in Auck­land. Pat painted and Gil worked in

the Univer­sity Book­shop and be­came a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher.

“I de­cided not to paint. It seemed too com­pet­i­tive. I wasn’t bad, I did quite well at art school. Our re­la­tion­ship wouldn’t have sur­vived if I’d kept on paint­ing. Photography was fine. He didn’t see it as art, but it was use­ful. I could pho­to­graph things for him.

“I never got paid as well as some of the blokes,” she says of her free­lance ca­reer. “I used to work for all sorts of mag­a­zines ... and of course the men al­ways got paid more than me.” Clau­dia Bell, writ­ing in Be­tween the Lives:

Part­ners in Art, says “many re­mem­ber Gil at ev­ery event with her cam­era gear: a lone, thin fig­ure on the edge of the crowd, her Nikon in hand, cam­era bag at her feet”.

Hanly: “We were protest­ing about events in South Africa, but we needed to look at Maori and Pa­cific Is­lan­ders in our cities with bad houses and low in­comes. I wanted to pho­to­graph sit­u­a­tions to do with jus­tice and po­lit­i­cal change.”

This week, the woman who has more re­cently found fame as a gar­den pho­tog­ra­pher (that lush jun­gle out the back of house is all her own work), seems de­ter­mined to down­play her own sig­nif­i­cance.

“I sup­pose I just found it in­ter­est­ing. The sorts of peo­ple Broad­sheet sent me to see ... I was just there,” she says sim­ply, “I was a doc­u­menter and I was pho­tograph­ing what hap­pened.”

Gil Hanly in her stu­dio. Above left, Dame Whina Cooper speak­ing at Wai­tangi, Fe­bru­ary 5, 1984. Right, Ripeka Evans at Wai­tangi, Fe­bru­ary 6, 1983; Maori Women’s Con­fer­ence, Tu­ran­gawae­wae Marae, Ngaru­awahia, Septem­ber 24, 1984.

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