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Photographic exhibition explores Hamilton in the 1990s

5 October 2022

An intimate view of Hamilton’s recent history will open at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato on 7 October 2022. The photographic exhibition Jellicoe and Bledisloe: Hamilton in the 90sPhotographs by David Cook documents the homes and inhabitants of one of Hamilton’s state housing suburbs, poignantly photographed by one of the locals.

When David Cook moved to Hamilton East in the 1990s, he was drawn to the colourful and creative lives of his neighbours. With camera in hand, he explored everything from back-yard mechanics to Sunday roasts, documenting everyday life on the block - now this body of work is brought to life in an exhibition on tour from the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata. 

“It is a privilege to bring to Kirikiriroa this unique slice of Hamilton life,” says Liz Cotton, Director of Museum and Arts, Waikato Museum.

“From today’s viewpoint, you can see how David has captured the rapid social change of the last three decades through his photographs. Locals and visitors to the area alike will see themselves reflected in these candid and evocative images, which in turn prompt conversation about housing and community development in out towns and cities.”

Describing the origins of the project, Cook says he wanted to get his teeth into something personal:

“Because I was raising a young family at that stage, I really couldn't easily go travelling far away so wanted to do a project closer to home. I opened my eyes and looked around and saw the richness of the neighbourhood we were living in,” says Cook, who was working as a photographer at Waikato Museum at the time, and is now a lecturer based at Massey University in Wellington. 

“The Eastside was once a little, humble state housing area in a great location by the river and over time people have seen that, bought into it, and really affordable housing has become unaffordable.”

The exhibition title, Jellicoe and Bledisloe, is a reference to local streets that take their names from New Zealand Governors General of the early twentieth century.

With a NZ Arts Council grant to take photographs of the people, Cook walked the streets and captured what was happening in his neighbourhood not long after moving and buying a house in the area in the 1990s.

“It shows us as a nation, as a people, who we are and where we’ve been. Kids played on the streets and down at the Waikato River, people worked on cars in their front yards, and neighbours knew each other well. It had that mix of people who had either bought their first home or were long-time state housing tenants.”

While Cook has managed to reconnect with some whaanau from his former neighbourhood, there are still several subjects that are unknown which he hopes to find. The exhibition features 40 large scale photographs and a video, and an accompanying book also titled Jellicoe and Bledisloe is available for purchase from the Waikato Museum’s gift shop.

Jaenine Parkinson, Director of The New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, says the exhibition captures a community at a key moment in New Zealand’s development.

“Looking back with the perspective that thirty years brings, we see burgeoning issues of relevance to today: housing, bicultural relations, social welfare and freshwater quality, all brought to us through the lens of daily life. This exhibition draws attention to the different roles that the state and city councils have played in providing housing and community welfare.”

David Cook’s photo-documentaries deal with communities in transition. Publications include Lake of Coal: the Disappearance of a Mining Township (finalist in the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards), Meet me in the Square: Christchurch 1983-1987 (winner of the 2015 MAPDA Exhibition Catalogue Award – major) and River Road: Journeys through Ecology (2011).

Jellicoe and Bledisloe will run until 14 May 2023 and entry is free.


Image credit: David Cook “Plunket Terrace”. From the ‘Jellicoe & Bledisloe’ series, 1993-1997.