The Waters of Life, September 1998
Aparna Sen, when fourteen, was the ‘monsoon girl’ in New Zealand and Magnum photographer Brian Brake’s famous 1961 photo-essay that appeared in Life, Paris Match, Queen and Epoca.
I travelled to Calcutta during the 1998 monsoon, following up on a lead from my eldest daughter, Sally, to find Aparna Sen.
The image detail at left is from ‘Photojournalism’ LIFE LIBRARY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, published many moons ago, of Brian Brake’s 1961 photo-essay as it appeared in ‘LIFE’ and ‘Paris Match’.
On the way to Aparna Sen’s apartment (she’s a big shot, says the hotel clerk), past the very British Victoria Memorial, past Calcutta’s zoological gardens, the horticultural gardens, and down Alipore Road, an unrelentingly congested road—as is any road or footpath in Calcutta—there stands a concrete, plastered wall about half a kilometre long, with a parapet of broken glass, rusty nails and old barbed wire. It’s an unpretentious wall, just two metres off the road, clearly visible, and protecting I’m not sure what. In the time it took to drive by, I counted eight men urinating against it. Seven hours later, on the way back, I counted five. Two days after this, off to Sen’s again, I counted three there, and four back. The waters of life. In the period between these two journeys, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation launched Operation Piddle. By the end of the first day, 155 men (no women) had been nobbled for peeing in public, and that was the count in only two of the main inner city streets.
While sorting out personal papers recently, I came across this note of support from an impeccable sub-editor and loyal friend during my April 1982–July 1985 stint at the New Zealand Listener magazine.
I humbly confess to Jacquie’s charges. I can’t recall now just which project we were working on 30 years ago that encouraged this note, it could have been any of a number. I had made a decision, from day one at the magazine (April Fool’s Day, 1982), to stand my ground as a photographer, to signal an entitlement to my own voice, to establish that voice within the magazine by meaningful sway over the edit and selection of my images, and the manner in which they would be used.
The trouble was, confrontation was my method of choice, and while that worked for a stretch, the dragooned and coerced in time found a way around me.
Jacquie, however, despite proof of the note otherwise, was a comrade-in-arms, a loyal friend, and when the moment was important, we worked carefully together to advance particular social and political agendas.
‘Stopover’, Bruce Connew, August 2007
“At the time George Speight and his co-conspirators embarked upon the 2000 coup, taking hostage the Indian-Fijian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and elected members of his government, my two elder daughters in New Zealand both had Fijian partners.”
‘Stopover’ was published by Victoria University Press, Wellington, New Zealand, and co-published by University of Hawai’i Press, Hawai’i, USA, and launched with grace and sustenance amongst the cane cutters and their families, and in the shade of a giant mango tree, by Bruce Connew, Catherine Griffiths, Brij Lal, Padma Lal, Jogindhar Singh Kanwal and Amarjit Kaur in Vatiyaka, Fiji, 2pm, Saturday, August 25, 2007.
‘Stopover’ exhibited at the Pataka Art Museum, Wellington, New Zealand in 2007, and the following year at Tauranga Art Gallery, and at Two Rooms Gallery, Auckland in 2012.
The complete series was collected August 2014 by the National Gallery of Australia.
The following text is the book’s introduction.
THE AGED PHOTOGRAPH on the preceding page is of two Indian-Fijian men. They are most likely early descendants of indentured Indian immigrants brought to Fiji between 1879 and 1916 to cut sugar cane on unforgiving, five-year contracts; or perhaps one of them is an indentured Indian immigrant, and out of indenture given the likely date of the photograph, holding hands with his son. No one is quite sure. I came across it loose inside the back cover of Aren Kumar’s family photo-album. I hadn’t been looking for photographs from the past. I was after recent snapshots of Aren’s relatives, especially those who had emigrated to such bright lights as Vancouver, Sydney and San Francisco since the coups in Fiji in 1987 and 2000. As I thumbed through the album’s pages, there were plenty of colour prints to choose from, sent home proudly as evidence of settlement from family members now in new countries and placed with care as pictures of aspiration; and not only in Aren's family album, but also in those of others in the valley. Emigrating was the big thing, and, in and out of earning a small living, still is.
National Gallery of Australia, August 2014
The National Gallery of Australia has collected three complete series.
Late August 2014, the National Gallery of Australia collected three complete series: ‘Kanaky’, ‘Censored’ and ‘Stopover’.
‘Kanaky’ toured New Zealand universities, through 1986, with the New Zealand Students’ Arts Council.
The National Gallery of Australia has collected the complete 29-image vintage exhibition series, #1 of an open edition, printed at the time of the first exhibition. 155 x 230 mm, image size.
... an excerpt from the afterword.
“In the first instance, ‘Body of Work’ is about the orchestrated process of horse breeding. But, as I wriggled through the months of scrutiny, in the midst of fluids, the snorting, the rawness of procreation, I became aware of an anomaly in the mares being served. I warmed to my task specifically because I came to recognise, in one mare after another, an anthropomorphic capacity to reflect. Through mournful and soulful eyes, they would make known an understanding of their peculiar predicament.”
BRUCE CONNEW / 01.2015