Quiet Treasures

Kathrin Simon’s FADE


KATHRIN SIMON Zion Church, Matakohe 2014
Colour photograph
Superimposed on a page from the Book of Genesis from the Maori Bible

Nothing could be more serendipitous than to return from a trip ‘up North’ visiting old haunts, urupa, marae, churches and galleries, to be delighted by Kathrin Simon’s FADE at the Pah Homestead.

I had just seen Aberhart in Hokianga at Kohukohu ― a photographic exhibition of Hokianga churches accompanied by three local stories filmed by Marg Morrow and Clare Ward. These black-and-white images, from the early 1980s, consisting of both interior and exterior shots, appear almost sculpted―stark and formidable; at times, grim.

Kathrin Simon’s ten coloured interior images, all shot on a full-frame Nikon D800, are printed in a circular format on fibre-based paper. This allows for a sense of layers and moods in a silky rich sheen, creating an immediate sense of intimacy, depth and warmth.

The artist speaks powerfully of the history that these churches embody, their quiet contentment and humble grace; she wants to capture this before these historic treasures disappear and, when I first saw these shots, I thought they were staged. Initially it was difficult to reconcile the captured beauty of an interior, where sometimes only birds inhabit, with a sometimes neglected-looking exterior.

The circular format is important. It echoes something of the early Kodak 1 photographs that became popular around the time some of these mission stations were established. Although the earlier images were only 65 mm. in diameter, something of the nostalgia captured from old photograph albums is part of the sentiment Simon wishes to convey.

The circle is also a symbol of Divinity, with its connotations of infinity; in the words of Hermes Trismegistus, ‘God is a circle whose centre is everywhere’.

A dialogue ensues between past and present with each image superimposed on and framed by a second photograph. This surround of historical items drawn from newspapers, maps or manuscripts, creating almost translucent crochet-like filigrees, registers as a shadow, representing the fast-disappearing memories surrounding these churches.

In the elegantly produced catalogue, Matt Elliott’s carefully researched material offers a small window into the historical connections for each building.

All of Simon’s interior shots are taken from the same angle―from the back of the church towards the front, using natural light, with nothing staged. ‘I captured what I found and waited for the right mood and light,’ she explains. Entering into these quiet and frequently solitary whare karakia, one experiences a deep sense of peace and reverence ― as well as, hopefully, a call and challenge to conserve these precious taonga.

KATHRIN SIMON St Luke's, Pakanae 2014
Colour photograph
Superimposed on a 1913 photograph of Bishop Averill of Auckland fording a stream
(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19130410-12-2)

KATHRIN SIMON Methodist Church, Omanaia 2014
Colour photograph
Superimposed on a 1902 photograph of the pupils and teachers of the Omanaia Native School, Hokianga
(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19021030-10-1)

KATHRIN SIMON Our Lady of Lourdes, Pawarenga 2014
Colour photograph
Superimposed on a 1902 photograph of a school boat in the roadless north
(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19021030-9-1)

KATHRIN SIMON Waima Community Church 2014
Colour photograph
Superimposed on an 1851 map of the Upper Hokianga
(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZM891)