22 Nov 2022

Efforts to preserve photographer Peter Bush's life's work

From Nine To Noon, 9:30 am on 22 November 2022

The family of veteran Wellington photographer Peter Bush is struggling to find a home for his vast collection of images portraying eight decades of sporting and socially significant events.

Starting his professional career with a box brownie as an 18-year-old shooting a rugby match, Peter Bush's name is well recognised in sporting circles, but his life's work also documents key moments in New Zealand's social history.

His vast image collection portrays royal tours, the Vietnam war protests, the Māori Land March in the 1970s, visits to Aotearoa by people such as  the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and Eartha Kitt and famous sports matches. 

Princess Anne and the future King Charles riding in pouring rain at Mt Peel Station, NZ.

Prince Charles and Princess Anne on a visit to New Zealand.  Photo: Peter Bush

He was also the only photographer who took photos in colour the day the Wahine sank.  

Now aged 92, Peter Bush has handed the management of his images to his daughter Rachel, whose aim is to have the collection digitised and find an institution to house it.

The collection consists of an estimated 300,000 images, some of which are deteriorating and need preserving.

Rachel Bush says so far trying to cut through red tape and trying to get some traction on the project has been exhausting, with unsuccessful approaches to Creative New Zealand and other government funding bodies.

She says his work is a treasure trove.

 "It documents the 60s and 70s and then there's a lot of beautiful landscapes that he photographed because he was a very outdoorsy enthusiastic person. He lived his life with a single goal in mind and that was capturing an image.

"He's a very enthusiastic engaging person. He never went anywhere without that camera."

The family used to joke the only exception to that was when he went to the bathroom. 

Peter Bush in action

Peter Bush in action.  Photo: Bush family collection

Rachel Bush says as an exhibition curator she understands the challenges the museum sector is facing with preserving old images and items, but believes they are important to keep. 

If her father's collection is to be retained it will need to be sorted, the negatives will have to be preserved and all the content will need to be put into archival sleeves. 

She is helping with a discovery project at present so that eventually photos needing to be kept would go into a coolstore and then be digitised. 

"It's a huge job... identifying what the different areas of Peter's work are, how many are digitised, how many are in negative form, how many are duplicates, the sections, like the sport, the rugby, the social history, the personal family photographs..."

Land March 1975

The Māori Land March in 1975.  Photo: Peter Bush

Alexander Turnbull Library says it is interested in making a business case for preserving Bush's work in what could become a public-private collaboration but the discovery project is an essential first step. 

Rachel Bush says the family needs an archivist and for the collection to be moved from her dad's office to suitable storage that is temperature controlled.  

"We've looked at it as a six-month process and after that we can put it forward to an institution or an organisation to be accepted as a collection to be made available for New Zealanders."

Creative New Zealand and other government funding bodies have turned down requests for funding to pay an archivist's salary.  

"There's so much aroha and good will for Peter ... but we need a complete financed project so we can move forward... It just needs to be organised and the next step taken." 

Rachel Bush says her dad is frail now but lives in the memories of the times that he has spent his life photographing. 

Jonah Lomu, NZ v Argentina, Jade Stadium, Christchurch, 2001

The late Jonah Lomu in action at Jade Stadium in Christchurch in 2001.  Photo: Peter Bush