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Ans Westra: A Life in Photography by Paul Moon - Book Launch Event Co-hosted with He Puna Manawa

Thursday 25 July 2024




Thu 25 July, 17:30-19:00


Te Ao Mārama - Tauranga City Library

The in-conversation event will include Author Paul Moon, Gallerist David Aslop, and Lisa Van Holst - Ans daughter. Refreshments will be provided as well as a signing session by Paul following the talk.

A woman driven to photography
The accomplishments of photographer Ans Westra, who took an estimated 325,000 photographs of New Zealand life over a 70-year career, are formidable. But despite being a pioneer of New Zealand social documentary photography, Westra herself has remained a somewhat enigmatic figure. 

Now, a new biography by historian Paul Moon, to be published in May by Massey University Press, gives deep insights into a photographer who made it her life’s work to capture images of a nation. 

Her gift was to make the ordinary seem extraordinary and her photographic catalogue is now widely thought of as a photo album of Aotearoa New Zealand. Her images serve as an unusually candid reminder of ‘how we were’ and what New Zealand life was like in previous decades. But her own life was complex and often challenging, and there were moments in her career — in particular, around the publication of the series of images known as Washday at the Pa — that enmeshed her in controversy. 

‘As we swapped stories, I noticed that even when recounting some of the more challenging episodes from her past she often wore a look of placid resignation rather than regret,’ says Paul Moon. ‘Early on, I realised that this was a woman who had not let adverse experiences derail her. 

‘This biography is an account of Ans Westra’s life through her eyes,’ says Moon. ‘It is also designed to be a corrective to such misrepresentations of her work.’ 

Westra died in February 2023, while this book was being written, but fortunately a wealth of material, including interview transcripts, meant the work could continue. ‘In some places the narrative is a bit like a patchwork quilt stitched together from documentary fragments,’ says Moon. ‘The end result is a mosaic of her life, largely constructed around her own memories and perceptions. And if some of the mystery of Ans Westra remains? I put this possibility to her just four days before her death. With a dry chuckle and broadening smile, she responded, “Good!”’

About the author
Dr Paul Moon (ONZM) is a professor of history at Auckland University of Technology’s Te Ara Poutama, the Faculty of Maori Development, where he has taught since 1993. He is the prolific author of many books, including biographies of William Hobson, Robert FitzRoy, and the Ngapuhi rangatira Hone Heke and Hone Heke Ngapua. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Historical Society at University College London and of the Royal Society of Arts.

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