Christine McFetridge is a Melbourne based photographer from Christchurch. Working in the area of social documentary, her projects are personal and nuanced takes on family life and community. Christine recently launched a photo book of her project The Winter Garden, which is a photographic response to the Christchurch earthquake. The book was co-published with M.33 and Bad News Books and Christine has been busy launching it here and at home in New Zealand over the last couple of months.
We've been lucky enough to print two recent exhibitions for Christine recently: her solo show of The Winter Garden and a commissioned project titled Citizens of the Park. She is a pleasure to work with and we look forward to seeing where her new projects and MFA studies take her next year!
Read on to find out more about Christine's work and insights into working in the realm of social documentary.
How did you first get started in photography and what drew you to the documentary in particular?
I’d always loved taking pictures but it wasn’t until my final year of high school that I began to study photography in a formal way. I was encouraged and supported by my photography teacher, Uiga Bashford, in applying to the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. The photography program there specialises in documentary and book making, so I think it has been through my education that I became drawn to it specifically. However, it’s been in practise that I’ve fallen in love with documentary as a medium and method of storytelling. My wonderful teachers, Brigit Anderson, Glenn Busch and Tim J. Veling, continue to be influential on my practice.
Where have you found yourself sourcing inspiration from recently?
I’ve been sourcing inspiration from conversations with my partner, friends and by listening to podcasts, particularly ‘A Small Voice’ and ‘Magic Hour’. I love hearing artists talk about their work. I read a lot too – I’ve always found my reading, whether it’s a novel, short story, poem or article; fiction or nonfiction, informs my practice significantly.
Tell us a little bit about your Citizens of the Park project, currently showing at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. How did it come about? How did you find the experience of approaching and photographing strangers for this project? How did the project tie in with your research on community and empathy?
The ‘Citizens of the Park’ project was initiated by Naomi Cass’ (Director, Centre for Contemporary Photography) experiences at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn and assisted by a grant from the City of Yarra. I was then invited to participate as the photographer-in-residence. I’ve been researching and thinking a lot about community and empathy so the project has been an incredibly valuable way to develop and extend my practice.
I really enjoyed the experience of approaching and photographing people I hadn’t met for the project, though some days I was more confident than others. That ‘Citizens of the Park’ existed in a public space, which isn’t overly large, was an interesting element of the project for me - I thought a lot about how I could convey a person in a public space, not only within an ethical framework, but so that the space felt familiar and intimate. I think ‘Citizens of the Park’ tied into my research in the way I was able to consider how people have empathy for each other and for place simply by observing and interacting with them.
You’ve recently been represented by M.33, with whom you have also launched your first published photo book called The Winter Garden. Congratulations! How has the book been received since its launch at Te Papa in Wellington, New Zealand and the NGV Art Book fair last month? How did you find the process of putting together the work and budgeting for a run of editions for your first book?
Thank you! It’s been an incredibly busy and productive start to the year. As far as I know the book has been received well, or perhaps well enough that I feel encouraged to make another! I’ve had people I don’t know reach out to let me know how the work has resonated with them, which I’m very moved by.
The process of putting together the work for the book was surprisingly intuitive. I suppose this is because I’ve been working on the project in different ways for a long time and I’ve periodically made book dummies and experimented with sequencing new work regularly. I also attended the review with Michael Mack and Dan Rule in January with this work, so I’d had some very critical discussions about the form the book would take right up to my print deadline. The book was predominantly funded by a Creative New Zealand (CNZ) grant and I’d budgeted for the editions based on the amount of funding I received. I’m very grateful to CNZ for their support.
You’ve been working on The Winter Garden for quite a few years now. How have you seen it evolve in that time frame? Do you see an end to the project or is it open-ended?
That’s right, I’ve been working on the project in different forms since 2012. The project has evolved in a physical sense, where I’ve shifted from shooting 35mm film to 120mm film. This has had an impact on my process and I’m much more considered and deliberate in my image making. The work has also evolved in a conceptual sense, as over time I’ve come to better understand what it’s about. Though I feel that the book is something of a pause in the project, I do see it continuing on in different iterations. I’ll be forever motivated by the way Roland Barthes sought the familiarity of his mother in photographs after her death and will aim to seek out ways of acknowledging and representing the changes in my life, both in work that is personal and more socially engaged. That photography allows me this sense of agency over my experiences is such a privilege.
How did you find getting started with printing at Image Science?
I found getting started with printing at Image Science very straightforward. The information provided on the website and subsequent consultations with Cam have made and continue to make the printing process incredibly simple. I also really appreciate the support I’ve received from Image Science; from the promotion of my work via Instagram, sponsorship of ‘Citizens of the Park’ or even an encouraging and friendly chat.
What are your plans for your photography for the rest of 2018?
I’m working towards two exhibitions currently: ‘Pink Frost’, a group show curated by Charlotte Watson about the New Zealand gothic at Tinning Street Presents (3 – 20 May); and a second iteration of ‘Citizens of the Park’ at Richmond Library (30 June – 24 August). I’m also looking forward to having some time to research and write, and prepare for my MFA next year.
Do you have an idea of what project you are hoping to undertake during your MFA?
I did, however I’m trying to consider how the project might develop or even change at the moment as a result of a few recent events in my life. I’m working through this and haven’t got to a point where I can articulate the thoughts very well. Wish me luck!
The Winter Garden is available for purchase on the Bad News Books website.
Christine McFetridge is a New Zealand born photographer and writer based in Melbourne. Using an auto-ethnographic approach she aims to address social and environmental concerns, with a particular interest in understanding the relationship between people and place. Solo exhibitions include Citizens of the Park, Centre for Contemporary Photography (2018) and The Winter Garden, Trocadero Art Space (2017) and In Situ Photo Project (Christchurch, 2017). In 2018 The Winter Garden was published as a limited-edition photobook by M.33 and Bad News Books. McFetridge is represented by M.33, Melbourne.
Images courtesy of the artist and M.33, Melbourne.