Mary Macpherson

The photographs of Mary Macpherson – with a dash of poetry

Landslides – the work of Gregory Halpern and Alice Oswald

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Gregory Halpern’s Paris Photo award-winning ZZYZX and Alice Oswald’s shortlisted for the Forward Prize Falling Awake, hardly need reviews from me. But perhaps no one has yet put them together in a commentary.

To plunge right in, which is what these works do, both smash through received wisdom in their respective mediums (photography and poetry), reminding one to take the hallucinatory or psychedelic seriously and believe in the raging guitar of musicians like Jimi Hendrix.

Halpern’s ZZYZX’s 6 x 7 negative photographs travel from the southern California desert, through Los Angeles to the sea, on a journey so subjective it functions like fiction – and like the best fiction it takes one to a place of emotional truth. Beautiful, thrusting, ambiguous portraits of down-and-out people loom in his wide verticals, as do rocks, birds, buildings, a rabbit and shattered glass. Running through it all is sunlight and dryness, with the book opening with an image of fire (something to fear in the land of drought). When we reach the sea at the edge of the dream, it’s not a wide blue welcoming expanse, but something rough and lurid that splashes against the lens.

Superb sequencing of related, yet wildly contrasting images, also hold the book together along with repeating references to hands and eyes and the primacy of sun on skin. This portrait of a land and its people, with it’s odd, beautiful thrusting images is music for our times, and sweeps aside desire for large/medium format, composed, soulful land and city scapes – begone endless documentary work it says. Begone endless work shot on overcast days. Work like this, done this well, has all the bite you’ll need.


The photobook ZZYZX and the poetry book Falling Awake

ZZYZX and Falling Awake


Despite loving gardening and the outdoors, nature poetry normally isn’t something I normally seek out. But acclaimed UK poet Alice Oswald put us face down in the dirt,  reminding that nature is about death, competition, disintegrating bodies and strange snuffling creatures – human, animals, insects and mythological figures. Her work opens with one of several vertigo inducing poems, this one about rain, and moves to flies, rotting swans and the severed head of  Orpheus floating downstream.

But it isn’t just radical subject matter that makes the poems rock. Oswald has the ability to twist a perspective or an experience, moving her lens up and down so it’s close up and personal.

Here’s the opening of Body, which plays with the finding of a badger’s body:

” This is what happened

the dead were setting in under their mud roof

and something was shuffling overhead

it was a badger treading on the thin partition ..”

and here’s the swan looking down at her own decomposing body in Swan

and leaving her life and all its tools

with their rusty juices trickling back to the river

she is taking last look …”

What makes these poems stand out isn’t only the viewpoint, it’s also the dense earthy language and a swinging gasping syntax that sweeps the reader with it, like a landslide of mud and stones. It seems as if the desire to see the world differently has, like Halpern’s work, found a perfect radical voice.


Here’s Gregory Halpern taking a well considered swipe at documentary work and academics:

and a piece by Sean O’Hagen in The Guardian:

and an interview with Alice Oswald about her collection:


Written by Mary Macpherson

27/12/2016 at 3:19 pm

Peter Ireland reviews ‘The Shops’ on Eye Contact

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Really thoughtful review by Peter Ireland of Steve Braunias and Peter Black’s The Shops on Eye Contact.

Written by Mary Macpherson

21/12/2016 at 10:36 am

New world old uses

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Reading the recent piece in The Spinoff about the looming effects of Queenstown’s tourist boom made me think of this photograph from my book Old New World.

Limited numbers of the book are available from Rim Books and Photospace Gallery.

Moa sculpture Queenstown

Queenstown, Otage, 2010 (sculpture by Robin Coleman)


Written by Mary Macpherson

14/12/2016 at 12:38 pm


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Here’s a review of the Medical Daydreams exhibition, The Shops and other shows at Photospace Gallery.

From 'Medical Daydreams' (image copyright Mary Macpherson)

From ‘Medical Daydreams’ (image copyright Mary Macpherson)

Written by Mary Macpherson

30/11/2016 at 11:38 am

Talks tonight about our books

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Peter and I will be talking about the making of our books – The Shops and Medical Daydreams – tonight at the Wellington Photobook Club. The event starts at 6.30pm at Photospace in Courtney Place. All welcome.


Written by Mary Macpherson

24/11/2016 at 10:23 am

Peter Black talks The Shops with Kim Hill

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This morning Peter did a great interview with Kim Hill about The Shops – his photobook with writer Steve Braunias. Interesting comments about the different speeds of internet images and books.

Listen to the podcast

View the book

See the exhibition

Written by Mary Macpherson

05/11/2016 at 2:50 pm

‘The Shops’ proofs arrive home

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The sample proofs for Peter Black and Steve Braunias’s The Shops found their way from China to our house. Happily the reproduction looks excellent. There’s also a wonderful personal essay by Steve that reminds me of some of my favorite long Robert Hass poems.

I love the feeling of an abundance that sets of proofs give – all those images before you and the unbeliveablity (is that a word?) that these sheets of paper will fly up and become a book.

Proofs for Peter Black and Steve Braunias 'The Shops'

Front and back covers for ‘The Shops’. A special shout out to Katrina Duncan for the great design.



Written by Mary Macpherson

11/09/2016 at 7:36 am

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