Concerns, Large & Small

Photographs by Heather Milne


HEATHER MILNE Earthquake Baby 2017
Digital photograph

The concerned photographer finds much in the present unacceptable which [s]he tries to alter . . . [and] let the world also know why it is unacceptable.
Cornell Capa, photojournalist (1918–2008)

Christchurch-based Heather Milne says photography facilitates and amplifies her delight in details—seeing them as part of a unitive yet ever-changing whole. Her fascination with details and pattern wasn’t always supported by others. But photography, she says, has liberated her ways of seeing and being—as a wife, mother and photographer.

A graduate of Southern Institute of Technology, within less than a decade Milne’s documentary-style work, largely unposed and unaltered digitals, has demonstrated an awareness of the power of representation to validate—or not—diversity and inclusiveness, and to influence change.

In Earthquake Baby (2017), a child (with her back to the camera) stands in front of Shigeru Ban’s Christchurch cardboard cathedral, surrounded by a melange of white chairs, an installation by Peter Majendie commemorating victims of the February 2011 earthquake. Different but companionable, both works concern absence and recuperation and, potentially, offer Milne’s representative child a regenerative forum. To this singularly evocative image (adopted by the 2018 Doc Edge Film Festival for their promotional brochures) Milne incrementally added other reflections of loss and renewal in the ironically titled portfolio Pretty Bad (2017–18). Detailing Christchurch’s physical and emotional devastation, these portrayals of brave and faltering pulses captured wide attention.

Milne further explores issues of representation, specifically stereotyping, with In Their Place (2017–18). She liaised with her subjects: ‘Choose your costumes and be yourselves.’ Attired in imagination-cum-activities, a series of young girls stare directly at us from amongst an assortment of locations and props. They are . . . ? Refractory? Reserved?

They are intriguing but ultimately unambiguous: people should feel free to wear what they want without fear of prescriptive labelling. ‘The costumes are what people expect girls to dress up in and become,’ Milne comments, ‘but I want to press that instead of clothes changing the personalities, the subjects—with or without frills or other paraphernalia —can become whatever they want. With support they can be themselves, find their own place.’

Milne exercises the power of representation to influence beliefs, behaviours and, ultimately, society. She challenges oppressive stereotyping and clichéd tropes—the notion that girls, or any child, should be soft, submissive, inactive, even weak. In Their Place asserts that preferences of clothing or activities do not determine character or gender—or the opposite. Milne asks—why can’t we just let children grow, wear and play with whatever they want?

Digital photograph

Digital photograph

Digital photograph

Digital photograph