Hidden under the subtlety of their gracefulness and simplicity, Wayne Barrar’s Mason Bay Series is powerful and iconic in its message.
As an environmental journalist his photographs go beyond documenting a landscape. These striking and beautiful vistas, devoid of humans, become discussions of colonisation.
Barrar had photographed many colonised landscapes (places where human intervention was obvious) and in 1988 he went to Mason Bay, on the West Coast of Stewart Island, searching for “a place where few people go and cultural influence is negligible.”
However he found European marram had replaced the native pingao to the point where marram looked like the natural vegetation. Could there be warnings of parallels for Pakeha and Maori?
“The forests bordering the dunes are themselves being buried in sand, resembling a post-holocaust scene.” (Mason Bay #4)
The lack of humans in the landscape can remind us that we are temporary visitors to or at best guardians of these lands.
Beakholes at Mason Bay is perhaps most poignant and powerful. It resembles a playcentre sandpit where children have been poking their fingers in the sand/land but it is in fact holes left from kiwis foraging for food in the frosty beach sand. In 1988 Barrar could already see that this would be all many people would see of New Zealand’s native bird in the wild - just beakholes and footprints remnants. The analogy with New Zealanders/Kiwis and Aotearoa/the land is both a testimonial for Barrar and a shock and a warning to us all.
All quotes: Geoff Park, essay in Shifting Nature: Photographs by Wayne Barrar, University of Otago Press, 2001.