Photo Essays

Gone Tomorrow

This is an ongoing series of back roads photos, the first of which have been in the exhibitions [v]erge and Art in the Woolshed in 2010, The Mahurangi Group's Matakana 2011 and at The Vivian Gallery in 2013.

Our rural environment is changing: subdivisions and lifestyle blocks are springing up, villages are being redeveloped and roads are being sealed, as Rodney District becomes more accessible, via the extended motorway from Auckland. My main photographic project in recent years has been to capture the changing roads of my area around Leigh.

I am looking at the places we rush past, en route to daily destinations and documenting my surroundings as they change – for one day, many of these scenes will exist only in memory.

The photos in the Gone Tomorrow series are all in a square, black and white format. I chose this format because it echoes the work of earlier photographers and scenes like these will also pass into history.

Initially, the series was shot digitally on an early model DSLR, using a painstaking stitched (and stacked) mosaic method to achieve medium format quality. Stacking and blending bracketed exposures enabled me to retain the full tonal range, making the result look more film-like. It was a long-winded way to achieve the desired results, requiring 12 to 20 or more exposures per final image.

In 2010 I acquired a 1954 Rolleicord medium-format camera, which made the process of taking photos much easier: one exposure per image at last, shot with the sort of camera I'd been trying to emulate. When I am well enough to return to taking photos, however, I will return to digital and use a later model digital camera, because of the workflow advantages.

Prints are on Ilford fibre-based paper, with Epson K3 Ultrachrome pigment inks. The ultimate goal for this project is to publish a book and to hold a solo exhibition of the work.

Only the photos that have so far been exhibited are online.



I experimented with various approaches before finally settling on the square format for the Gone Tomorrow essay. These are the resulting black and white backroads photos that have been exhibited, that are not part of Gone Tomorrow.

Documentary photography is what I'm about more than any other genre. Creating a record of our physical and social time and place is just as important to me as the aesthetic aspect of my photography. I look for subject matter that is not spectacular or always immediately familiar to the viewer, but which is nevertheless very 'New Zealand.'

I am a fan of photographers such as Marville, Atget, Koudelka, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Marti Friedlander, Ans Westra, Robin Morrison and others who have captured the times in which they have lived. (In fact, the Backroads idea could be said to date back to the beginnings of photography, when Marville, in the 1850s, captured the soon-to-be-demolished Paris streets, as a photographic record.)

I am drawn to photograph the ordinary subjects that are neglected in décor art: the coastal paintings and photos one so often sees in galleries, represent only the boundaries of our country – not its heart; yet it is via the backroads that holiday makers traverse the countryside, at speed, en route to its rural margins, the beaches.

It is on the backroads where we find our true rural environment. The sea and sand, to which we flock in summer, don't change much. The settlements around them do, however, and the countryside traveled through in order to reach these locations, is changing.

Roads are being sealed. Subdivisions are springing up. Areas like Pakiri, Omaha, Matakana and maybe Te Arai have changed, or soon will. I want to record the neglected beauty of the ordinary roads that lead to these places, for it is along these roads that we live and pass every day.

I live in Leigh and am in love with the region, but seldom go to the beach. Instead I visit these lonely roads and absorb their beauty – and mourn the inexorable erosion of my rural idyll as houses and new roads and developments spring up.


Backroads - Colour Panoramas

One of the approaches I took for photographing the backroads was the colour panorama. Because these are so different from the other backroads photos, I have put them in a separate section.


Leigh ... by night

This essay was exhibited in 2009.

Artist Statement

At night, things look different; but we don't usually stop and stare, as we are more interested in reaching our destinations.

My purpose is to document today's local environment as a record for the future. These photos live for the day when the locations have changed, making it impossible to take the same photos again - the day when all that remains is a photo and a memory.


Live in Leigh

This essay on the performing arts in Leigh was exhibited in 2008.



Photos from all my exhibitions are displayed in this section.


All content copyright © Richard Smallfield 2009
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