Ans Westra is one of the most significant New Zealand documentary photographers of the second half of the twentieth century. Her photographs are synonymous with the way we as New Zealanders understand ourselves, our past and our present. Her work is sensitive in its depiction of humanity, particularly children, and is sometimes courageous, as Westra took personal risks when documenting New Zealand’s sex trade and gang culture.
In 1986 Westra was the Pacific regional winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Photography Award. This was followed throughout the 1990s by travel around Asia, Europe and the US, interspersed with exhibitions and teaching, and culminating in a year-long stint in her native Netherlands. In 1998 Westra’s work was recognised by the New Zealand government when Westra was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to photography. Among her many other accolades, 2004-2005 saw Westra the subject of a major touring survey exhibition Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs, and in 2007 she was granted an Arts Foundation Icon Award. From her home in the Hutt Valley Westra continues to document New Zealand as it unfolds and evolves, most recently taking an interest in changing national demographics and human impact on the environment.