November 2016 was the month New Zealand lost an iconic photographer, Marti Friedlander. In her career spanning six decades, Marti says she found the “ordinary extraordinary” and was able to translate her findings to film. She is particularly renowned for her portraits of artists in the 1960s and 1970s, and for her images of the last Māori women to have received the chin moko in a customary manner.
Marti was born in London and spent her childhood in a Jewish orphanage. She won a trade scholarship at age 14 and studied photography. From 1946-57, she worked as a photographic assistant in a portrait and fashion studio in Kensington. She married New Zealander Gerrard Friedlander in 1957 and came to live in New Zealand in 1958. En route, Marti and Gerrard went on a ‘scooter honeymoon’ in Israel.
Her journey through Israel has been described as a “deeply personal odyssey connected with her identity”. The Friedlanders returned to England and Israel for an extended break during 1962-63 and had ideas of possibly making Israel home. Images from her trip there are now being shown at the Auckland Art Gallery and give an insight into a new nation from a uniquely Marti perspective.
As Leonard Bell has written, “For all their apparent literal realism, her photographs, especially from New Zealand and Israel, imply the problematics of identity and peoples’ relationships to the places they inhabit. That is, rather than just showing ‘us’ ‘what we look like’, these are photographs that ask us questions-not necessarily easy ones to answer.”
See Marti’s photographs, including those of early modern Israel, until 18 March on the Ground Level of Auckland Art Gallery.