Marti Friedlander (1928 – 2016)
“That is all I want my images to do – to touch people and make them think”.
Throughout her remarkable sixty-year long career, Marti Friedlander has been instrumental in independently documenting the changing nature of contemporary post-war New Zealand: through the protest and women’s movements, the changing roles of men, and Māori and Pacific Island societies.
She was the first photographer to celebrate the extent to which visual and literary creativity contributes to New Zealand culture. Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century (with Michael King) has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1972, and is arguably one of the most important photo essays produced in post-war New Zealand. Michael King wrote: ‘Born into Te Ao Maori, wearing their moko like a diploma of accomplishment in that world, these women were exemplars of ways of living and thinking that had almost disappeared by the time Marti photographed them. But her photos capture the imprint of experience on their faces and their character, along with their dignity, their authority, their very ethos. They look back at Marti calmly and trustfully, woman to woman, some of them allowing themselves to be photographed for the first time in their long lives’.
All 47 original prints in the Moko suite were gifted to Te Papa: Museum of New Zealand. Friedlander has documented her adopted country from within her personal experience of diaspora, as a Jewish artist. This experience has also informed her insight into the way New Zealand has established a more complex and compelling identity within two generations.
Friedlander’s work has been exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, and in a celebrated retrospective at the Auckland Art Gallery in 2001, which then toured the country. Shirley Horrocks’ film, Marti: The Passionate Eye, attracted attention both at the International Film Festivals in New Zealand in 2004 and on local television. In 1999, she was awarded the Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to photography.
In 2016, Friedlander received her Honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Auckland. The honour reflects her distinguished contribution to the art of photography in New Zealand and nearly six decades spent documenting the country’s people, landscape, culture and movements for social change.
Notable publications include:
‘Moko: The Art of Maori Tattooing’ Marti Friedlander and Michael King, 1972
‘Larks in Paradise: New Zealand Portraits’ Marti Friedlander and James McNeish, 1974
‘Marti Friedlander’ Leonard Bell, 2009
‘Self-Portrait’ Marti Friedlander with Hugo Manson, 2013
In New Zealand, I became a photographer by chance. Perhaps there’s truth in Susan Sontag’s comment that people robbed of their past become the most fervent photographers. It was like that for me… somehow photography made New Zealand more coherent for me. I didn’t want to see the landscape through a viewfinder, but the camera allowed me to come to terms with New Zealanders through their faces.
– Marti Friedlander, 2011