Despite being primarily black and white, the photos in Bruce Hunt’s Tussocks feel, in both composition and tone, like paintings. Turns out Bruce is a painter, one who likes to head out, brush in hand and polyprop on legs, to capture the hills of Otago and the Mackenzie Basin. He also likes to take a camera along, and Tussock is the result of 20 years of photographing some of Te Waipounamu’s most extraordinary landscapes.
These landscapes, of course, have been captured before (most ubiquitously by Grahame Sydney), but Bruce’s photos bring something new. For one, we are used to seeing places like Central Otago, and their tussocks, rendered in forthright colour – golden grasses are one thing, monochrome ones are another. There’s a wee bit to learn as well. For example, did you know that a mature snow tussock can harvest water from fog? As “tussock man” and University of Otago professor Alan Mark explains in the foreword to the book, a single plant can extract up to a litre of water every two hours, even when there is no rain. All the more reason to think twice before covering the place in pine trees.
Most striking, though, is the way the photos have no people in them, yet manage to hint at people all the same. Alongside big Mackenzie skies, there are remote ANZAC graves, a Zephyr streaked with rust and moss, a vintage laundry wringer half lit by a window cut through a thick wall made of stone. It’s all downright evocative and haunting, and familiar. For better or for worse, humans and the land are connected. “Tussock is the colour of my country,” Bruce writes. “It is, for me, a coming home.” – LW