Richard Collins

‘You take from anything. Sometimes you might see a photograph in some crap magazine or something and you think: “Oooh.”’

– Richard Collins

Richard Collins, interviewed by curator Athol McCredie, 2012


AM: Somewhere I read that Gary [Baigent] saw your photographs that you had taken in Australia, and you knew him anyway. Is that correct?

RC: It was that era. Everyone shared pads, houses, and it was … a pretty riotous sort of time really. Innocent times as well, this cross-pollination of ideas. I guess he introduced me to people I’d never heard of, American photographers.

AM: How did then you meet other people like John Fields?

RC: John was just on the scene. He’s a different kettle of fish, John, but he was very generous with his time and comments. He didn’t really belong to this – how shall I put it? He was sort of quite a straight-up character, John.

AM: So you were in a more bohemian scene?

RC: Yes, it was very concentrated. Maybe that was the difference. It all seemed to centre around the Kiwi Hotel, and parties, and amazing conversations and introductions to other areas in the arts, music. Good times. And, you know, there was a bad side as well, I suppose. It was exciting. We used to go on trips, you know, out to Huia. There’d be all sorts of things happening.

AM: A friend of mine said there was a well-known commune at Pakiri. Were you involved in that?

RC: I think some people thought that.

AM: But it wasn’t a formal one, was it?

RC: No. We, wisely or not, joined a group of four and we bought this land and everyone built their own houses. But it certainly was a drawcard, Pakiri Beach.

AM: So is it what you’d call today alternative lifestyling?

RC: I suppose other people might call it that, but it was just life. The strictures of what we were brought up in, I suppose … to-hell-with-it-all attitude. There’s other things going on.

AM: How did this change in feeling or approach to photography come about in the 60s, say? In the 50s, in New Zealand anyway, there was only one avenue for photography as any sort of expressive medium, and that was through camera clubs and that was a very limited way.

RC: It must have been coming in contact with overseas publications.

AM: You mentioned Creative Camera, and then Life magazine. But that gap between – like American magazines Popular Photography, US Camera, Modern Photography – were you looking at any of those?

RC: Well, you take from anything. Sometimes you might see a photograph in some crap magazine or something and you think: “Oooh.” It turns you on in some way, or you really love it or it has meaning.

AM: Do you have any ‘Aha!’ moments that you remember particularly? Ones where you saw something and it really made a difference to your thinking?

RC: Well funnily enough I can remember Brian Brake’s. I know there were a lot of cropped photographs by Magnum photographers. I was aware of them without really being aware of photography. It was only later that I started to place things in some sort of context.


This excerpt is from a conversation for the book The New Photography, available at Te Papa Store on Level 1.