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Hugh Best: Open Bay Islands - Unlocking Part Of New Zealand’s Past

11 August 2004

A unique landscape and romantic history enticed Hugh Best to the remote Open Bay Islands, and is the inspiration for his traditionally presented photographic essay.

The exhibition, Open Bay Islands, opens on Friday (13 August) in the Tait Electronics Antarctica Gallery at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

The exhibition is made up of 25 images of the Open Bay Islands, which are located on the Westland Coast between the Haast and Okuru Rivers.  The Islands are comprised of two small landmasses – Taumaka and Popotai – and several reefs.  The Islands are one of the most remote and inhospitable locations in New Zealand, and Best visited them several times between 1991 and 2002 to capture the present, as well as their romantic history.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, tales of adventure and hardship emerged from the Open Bay Islands, a hunting ground for sealers operating out of Sydney.

Christchurch Art Gallery Senior Curator Neil Roberts says among the stories was the tale of the stranding of ten men for almost four years – an account that caught Best’s attention.

The story starts in early 1810, when the Brig Active left First Officer David Loweriston and nine crew on the Islands, while it went for supplies.  The ship never returned, and the men were left marooned.  Making do with a whaleboat, a few tools and meagre rations, they built dwellings and managed to preserve over 8,000 of the 11,000 sealskins they had gathered before being rescued in 1813.

“The archaeological remnants of their stay on Taumaka remain today and form part of Best’s photo essay,” says Neil Roberts.

Another story centres on John Boultbee and five crew, who visited the Islands in 1826.  Boultbee kept a detailed journal of his adventures, including a conflict with local Maori on the mainland – the crew fought off their attackers but not before two were killed, and the survivors forced to take refuge on the Islands.

Neil Roberts says Best’s photographic essay documents the rediscovery of the Open Bay Islands.

“Best’s black and white images were taken and processed using traditional methods developed in the nineteenth century, capturing the historical aspect of the place and giving the images a timeless quality.

“Text extracts from Boultbee’s journal complement the photographs, providing an intriguing historical exhibition that unlocks much of the Islands rich past,” says Neil Roberts.
Hugh Best’s Open Bay Islands exhibition runs from 13 August to 28 November.  Admission is free.

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