The Emergence of Real Pictures


Ian Macdonald started Real Pictures in early 1978 as a one-man operation. Then, later in the year, he began a colour-processing laboratory and was joined in the enterprise by Kevin Donovan (the two had majored in colour photography at Elam). Today they are partnered by Rob Giles and Paul Hewson, editor of The Photo Forum Supplement, the tabloid extension of New Zealand's leading journal of creative photography.

All four are enthusiastic photographers; and the recent opening of the Real Pictures Gallery was, as Macdonald says, 'designed to cater for the interests of the staff of Real Pictures - a natural extension of our photographic activities'.

Real Pictures (left to right):
Rob Giles, Paul Hewson,
Kevin Donovan and Ian Macdonald

At Real Pictures, commercial interests take second place to a desire to 'foster photography generally. . . in all its aspects'. The two sides of the operation seldom conflict and often combine happily:
'The colour processing lab uses the skills of people who are interested in photography but doesn't bear directly on their talents. If we were a photographic studio our means of earning a living would be too close to our creative work. As our financial backbone, the laboratory provides us with a living and a good facility for our own use as well as making it possible for us to be involved in activities like the gallery, publications and touring shows - in short, a complete service for serious photographers. Furthermore, by being completely independent of government bodies like the Arts Council, or any private institution, we are doing photography and photographers in New Zealand a service.'

In conjunction with the Native Forests Action Council, Real Pictures are planning to publish a book of Ian Macdonald's photographs of the South Westland Forest.

As to Ian Macdonald's background: with Kevin Donovan and Fiona Clark, he helped to set up the colour photography facilities at The School of Fine Art, Auckland University. That is a matter about which Macdonald has strong feelings:

'The fact that one of New Zealand's fine art schools has no photography department any more is appalling, especially now, with such enormous interest in photography in the fine art area. Very soon there will be tremendous pressure from photographers for a department that is adequately staffed and equipped.

Fire-eater Zingaro
at the opening of Paul Gilbert's
Road People of Aotearoa

'It's an important consideration that in the near future, as a result of the "new technology", we will see the development (worldwide) of an information industry. Tremendous new facilities will become available and trained people will be necessary to use them. In the light of this I think it's ironic that at Elam, which is supposed to be oriented toward industry these days, the photography section was just "wound down". They have got to establish a major photography department as well as film and video departments.

'Real Pictures now provides a facility in this vacuum, helping people in the way Elam should be. We give a lot of technical advice and we provide those facilities which should be available at the art schools. Generally, us being here provides people with inspiration, as well as more practical assistance.'

Ian attributes the recent growth of interest in photography largely to the efforts of Tom Hutchins and John Turner - former Elam staff.

'Tom made a unique contribution to New Zealand photography and managed to get into the international scene - working for Life magazine and so on. He brought his international experience back to New Zealand. Real Pictures is the fruit of that inspiration. We'd like to provide the same sort of guiding role as someone like Tom. He and John Turner are the real reason for the existence of Snaps and our-selves; and they're the reason why photography is as advanced here as it is in a centre like London.'

In this spirit, Real Pictures want their gallery to depict the full scope of New Zealand camera art. Their shows to date have featured Ian's Images of the New Zealand Forest, 5X-70 prints by Janet Bayly, Paul Gilbert's Road People of Aotearoa and works by the staff of Real Pictures.

The range of shows for the future is even more diverse: an exhibition by the wives of well-known photographers; photographs by Denys Watkins, Paul Hartigan, Don Binney and Tony Fomison; a show of colour xerox prints by various artists including Megan Jenkinson, Watkins, Nick Spill and Cathryn Shine.

The gallery is also available free of charge - to people who might not otherwise find a space for their work. Peter Roche will present his performance Liaison during the Auckland Festival; and Chris Hansard will present one of his plays.

'We'd just like the place to be vibrant, and have some sort of spirit, and so provide a real facility for any photographic or related activities.'