Jane Zusters

Life Drawing North Beach, Christchurch 1978

1978
gelatin silver print
140mm x 225mm

Signed Zusters and inscribed AP ” Life Drawing North Beach, Christchurch 1976 in graphite on label affixed verso

Provenance

Private collection, Christchurch.

Essay

APW: What first drew you to photography as a medium? When you were studying at Ilam in Christchurch in the 1970s, it was still co...

Read full text
Estimate $1,000 - $2,000
Achieved $1,201.25

Jane Zusters

Laurence Aberhart, Kamala and the Hammond Boys - Lyttleton 1976

1976

gelatin silver print

Signed Zusters and inscribed “AP” Laurence Aberhart, Kamala and the Hammond Boys - Lyttleton 1976 in graphite on label affixed verso

150mm x 230mm

Auction N˚5

Estimate $1,000 - $2,000

Achieved $1,081.13

Jane Zusters interview

by Andrew Paul Wood

APW: What first drew you to photography as a medium? When you were studying at Ilam in Christchurch in the 1970s, it was still considered a somewhat ambiguous art form.

JZ: Photography was a compulsory part of first year at Ilam. I spent my first year resisting becoming fascinated by it because I thought it would be very expensive. We had to have our own single-lens reflex camera. Then my sister Susan and my brother-in-law, professional photographer Harry Ruffell, waltzed up the stairs to my flat in Rhodes Street, Christchurch, with an enlarger and a developing tank. I set up a darkroom in my bathroom.  While my class were dropping their films in freezing communal tanks and getting unexposed negatives, I was getting perfect results. Harry was very supportive, giving me access to his Time-Life books and boxes of dated Agfa paper.

Lawrence Shustak was my photography teacher. He taught by example, which could be very frustrating for his students, but he was always out taking photographs. I was a bit of a rebel and never did the assignments, but it didn’t matter as long as I was taking photographs. That’s when I first saw the work of Diane Arbus, and it changed my world. I began a painting major the following year. I was only there for a week before the painting department burned down. It was traumatic as we didn’t have any studios, and we had to go out painting landscapes with Bill Sutton. I didn’t want to do that and stayed at home in my darkroom. Allie Eagle invited me to be in Women’s Art: An Exhibition of Six Women Artists  at the Robert McDougall Gallery in 1975. I exhibited my photographs. I don’t think the painters liked it very much. In retrospect I’m very proud of that work; it was quite edgy and brave.

Lawrence was my referee for my first successful Arts Council grant application in 1977. I was in shows with him when I dropped out of art school. He was in his Polaroid phase and photographed everyone and everything, including me. I was part of a community of passionate photographers; Rhondda Bosworth, Allan McDonald, Jae Renault, Terry Austin, and Laurence Aberhart.

APW: How did Arbus influence you?

JZ: From Arbus I learned that the ordinary could be extraordinary, and that making public what was normally considered private was a legitimate aim for the artist. Her work made me seek out situations that were foreign to my own experience.

I was objectifying my subjects, which is something Susan Sontag criticised Arbus for, though I think it’s a big oversimplification to see Arbus as an exploitative outsider. She wasn’t stalking her subjects from afar, she was actively engaged with them, which is what you have to do to make a portrait.

Five of the twelve photographs in Six Women Artists were about adult nudity. Like Arbus I photographed in the nude to put my subjects at ease. I had a romantic view of it, thanks to her, I suppose; I saw myself as sanctifying the private worlds I was entering.

I’d also learned from Judy Chicago that my life, experiences and sexuality were legitimate subject matter.