12 Nov 2023

Greta Anderson’s strange, psychically charged images of the ordinary

From Culture 101, 2:05 pm on 12 November 2023
Greta Anderson

Greta Anderson Photo: Rylee Cherry

Spooky, beautiful, yet funny, Greta Anderson’s photography transforms day into night, while invasive flora and domestic objects seem charged up in light by spiritual electricity. 

Documentary and product photography meet surrealism in the Tāmaki Makaurau artist’s There is Nowhere to Go, There is Nothing to Do, an exhibition and book of images shot between 1997 and 2022.

"There is nowhere to go, there is nothing to do" is a saying from Ram Dass, an American spiritual guru who helped popularise Eastern spirituality in the ‘70s. It could allude to qualities in Anderson’s photographs; staged documentary landscapes or sharply-lit objects for our cinematic imaginations. But it also refers to Greta Anderson’s own childhood at Timatanga community and school in West Auckland.   

“After my parents’ marriage breakup, my mother took nine-year-old me, my brother and my sister to live on a West Auckland commune situated near a national airbase," Anderson says.

"The juxtaposition of renovated chicken dormitories and farmhouses that we lived in with the airbase’s well-maintained State houses made the differences in our lifestyles very apparent." 

'Mary's Comb' Greta Anderson 2013

'Mary's Comb' Greta Anderson 2013 Photo: supplied

They had one tiny shelf each where they arranged their small collections of belongings.

"I remember a National Geographic, yellow plastic hair brush, a wooden snapper with a fin broken off, and a jar of creatures from a Piha rockpool—special things. We looked after animals, climbed trees at dusk, and watched The Tomorrow People.


Timatanga Community, 1978. Greta Anderson is front row, third from right. Photo: supplied

“The adults used blankets and cushions for unusual things they called ‘therapy’. We called them ‘The Adults’ and we were ‘The Kids’—two tribes. We, The Kids, used to roll our eyeballs when they explored their ‘inner child’,” she says. 

In Anderson’s work, you find domestic spiritual objects, such as datura flowers, a white swan, crystals and toadstools, but other objects are made strange - combs, marbles, gourds and even scorched almonds. 

'Fay's Hair' Greta Anderson 2013

'Fay's Hair' Greta Anderson 2013 Photo: Two Rooms Gallery

Anderson’s friends often model in landscapes where weeds and foreign plants have overcome the indigenous. The work frequently recalls childhood play spaces in forgotten wild spaces between places - at dawn or twilight.  

Also well known as an independent musician, Anderson was a member of bands Superette, Ben and Greta, and the Blue Marbles. 

Joined by Hermione Johnson, Anderson will play at her book launch at Te Uru gallery in Auckland’s Titirangi on Saturday 18 November. With drummer Gary Sullivan, Anderson and Johnson have formed a new band, Half Sister. 


'After Jane Walker' Greta Anderson from 2021 series The Transcenders Photo: Lula Cucchiara

In her 2021 series The Transcenders, Anderson pays tribute to New Zealand female musicians in bands she has admired. Those, like her, who often sit behind in a male-fronted group. Anderson presents objects representing the likes of Jane Walker (Toy Love), Kaye Woodward (The Bats) and Jane Dodd (Able Tasmans, The Verlaines).

There is Nowhere to Go, There is Nothing to Do is showing at Te Uru Gallery until 3 December and the book is available from Rim Books.

'Day for night house Hokitika' by Greta Anderson, 2009

'Day for night house Hokitika' by Greta Anderson, 2009 Photo: Two Rooms gallery