From New Zealand to Latvia

  • 2010-04-22
  • By Jared Grellet

INCREDIBLE SURROUNDINGS: Mineral deposits simmering in the Champagne pool at Wai-o-tapu.

RIGA - Throughout April and May, New Zealand landscape photographer Craig Potton is exhibiting a number of his photos in Riga. Last week, The Baltic Times attended the opening of the exhibition at the Foreign Art Museum.
Geographically speaking there are not too many countries more far removed from each other. It is this distance which also limits the relationships between the two countries, so when it was announced that a photographer from New Zealand would be exhibiting in Riga, the typical reaction was ‘kapec’ (why)?

But the photographer himself does not think of it as a strange place to be displaying his work, telling The Baltic Times that Latvia “seems as good a country as any; both photography and landscapes are thoroughly international.”
How the exhibition came to be in Riga is a tribute to the fine relationship that the New Zealand Embassy in Warsaw has with Latvia.

In Riga to officially open the exhibition was New Zealand ambassador to Poland and the Baltics, Dr. Penelope Ridings. Dr. Ridings was able to offer a simple explanation as to how Potton’s work came to be on display in Riga.
After having a successful exhibition in Poland, Potton was kind enough to leave the photographs in the care of the New Zealand embassy. Not wanting to see them left sitting unappreciated in storage, Ridings made calls to her contacts in Latvia. Her contact was Dana Rudaka, who works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Rudaka was excited and honored at the prospect of having a New Zealander exhibit in Latvia and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to see it become a reality.

Craig Potton is regarded as one of New Zealand’s leading landscape photographers, having had his work exhibited throughout the world including the Rowe Gallery in North Carolina, USA.
Potton’s fine attention to detail has also seen him work as a location/still photographer on big budget films including the Narnia and Lord of the Rings trilogies.
The Riga exhibition takes a journey through New Zealand, beginning on the windswept beaches of New Zealand’s third largest island Stewart Island. Next it travels through the caves and rock formations of the South Island’s West Coast before moving away from the beach to travel through native New Zealand bush arriving at the thermal wonders which define the central North Island. The exhibition then returns to the beach to complete its journey in New Zealand’s far north.

Potton is famous for his ability to capture the harshness and raw beauty that defines the New Zealand landscape. A committed conservationist, Potton admits that often he cannot divorce this from his art. However he adds, “I am primarily taking photos based purely on the structure, form and color of what I’m photographing and I believe art that is too preachy is not art.”

These comments are reflected in a number of the photographs on display in Riga. The photographs exemplify Potton’s innate ability to turn an everyday object into a thing of beauty. This is no better emphasized than in a photograph of a lake shoreline halfway through the exhibition. Whilst the lake itself is an object of beauty the eye of the viewer is automatically drawn to a piece of pumice lying on the shore of the lake.

Any amateur photographer with a disposable camera could capture the same shot of the lake, but it takes a photographer with the skill of Potton to make the picture more than just another picture of a lake.
Those with knowledge of landscape photography may be left pondering why it is Potton who is exhibiting in Riga and not his good friend and fellow New Zealand landscape photographer Andris Apse, a Latvian native.
Apse who was a Latvian refugee living in Germany immigrated to New Zealand with his mother upon the ship “Dandalk Bay” in 1949.

Along with Potton, Apse is perhaps New Zealand’s best known landscape photographer. Apse agrees that there is indeed some irony that, having come from a country in which hills are something of a rare occurrence, he has forged a career photographing some of the most dramatic mountains in the world.
Potton says that his good friend Apse had no influence on him deciding to exhibit in Riga as it was more a case of his photographs already being in this part of the world but at the same time he thinks that “it’s a nice touch I exhibit in my friend’s original homeland.”

Apse believes that “Latvian’s will love the images of New Zealand as it is so different to the gentle rolling countryside of Latvia.”
Apse has never in fact exhibited in Latvia, despite having also photographed his native country in great detail, with plans to release a book of his Latvian landscape photographs sometime in the near future.
Potton’s exhibition will run at the Foreign Art Museum in Riga Castle throughout April and May. The exhibition can be found in the basement level of the gallery. General admission is 1 lat (0.70 euros) or 50 santims for students.