Doc Ross: photographing the red zone

Behind the scenes

Sydenham-based photographer Doc Ross and his camera have been investigating the Christchurch urban environment for the past 14 years.

Over this time, he has built up a significant body of work related to local architectural heritage and urban spaces. Doc has also produced exhibitions and superb limited edition books of his mainly black and white images – both before and after this city's recent seismic demise. The meaning and emotional impact of his work has been greatly adjusted through the Christchurch earthquakes.

With permission from CERA, he recently made his second visit beyond the cordon, just before the reopening of Cashel Mall, and just before the red zone bus tours commenced. It was a privilege to join him on this tour. With streets completely empty and an expanding proliferation of vacant lots, the city has been transformed into a place that is strange and new. There is much for his camera – and for me – to take in, including relics of familiar landmarks, and new (unexpectedly, almost disturbingly fine) distant views of surviving buildings, alongside the sombre fact that many are yet destined for demolition. It is difficult not to be anxious about the long-term future of the pieces that remain.

Photo: Ken Hall

Photo: Ken Hall

Doc Ross in Lichfield Street. Prior to the Christchurch earthquakes this been an almost completely intact colonial era streetscape.

Doc acknowledges that following the earthquakes, his Christchurch photography project has taken over many aspects of his work and life – mostly in a good way. I caught up with him again recently – he was about to leave his studio in order to document a heritage supporters' demonstration on the edge of the city barricades.

When asked about the response he expects people will have to his recent work, he reflected that

'when I finally make the book from this project, and the accompanying exhibition I'm also working on creating (...) I would like people to see it as a record of a period in the city's history that we all shared, the whole thing from pre quakes to now is in many a simply a record of my own personal emotions and feelings, but I would like people to perhaps get some comfort that they are ones we all shared.'

Photo: Ken Hall

Photo: Ken Hall

Doc Ross in Manchester Street. Compare this view to one painted in 1929 by Louise Henderson. Until the destruction wrought by 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the street façade had little changed.