New Zealand Māori life captured by famed photographer Ans Westra – picture essay

Westra, who died last week, was among New Zealand’s best-known photographers, capturing images of Māori people in the 1960s that drew controversy as well as acclaim

by Cornell Tukiri

As a Māori and a documentary photographer, I often seek out images of our people from the past. I ask myself: what has been captured? When I read that the Dutch photographer, Ans Westra, had died on Sunday at 86 years old I remembered a book of Westra’s I had bought a few years back from a second hand shop. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found it.

Near Ruatoki, 1963.

The book, Maori, was published in 1967, a decade after Westra immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand, where she became one of this country’s best-known photographers. It’s an absolutely amazing collection of images of Māori people with chapters called Childhood, A New Family, Hui, Tangi and Te Atatu Hou (The New Dawn) among others.

It would have been published not long after her then – and still now – controversial work, Washday at the Pa, was printed by New Zealand’s Education Department in 1967 and distributed to schools. The book depicts a day in the life of a rural Māori family with eight children and remains Westra’s best-known work….