19 Nov 2017

Ans Westra: a life's work digitised

From Standing Room Only, 12:30 pm on 19 November 2017
Ans Westra

Ans Westra Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

Ans Westra CNZM is the photographer behind many famous images of life in New Zealand, including the legendary Washday at the pa series from 1963.

Her life's work – around 150,000 negatives – has been digitised and preserved by the National Library of New Zealand, and this month an exhibition in Wellington marks the end of the three-year project.

Ans's friend and agent David Alsop was the driving force behind both the exhibition and digitisation project.

He and her half-sister Yvonne talk to Charlotte Wilson.

Dutch-born Ans arrived in New Zealand as a 21-year-old in 1957 to join her family.

Their father was married three times, Yvonne says.

"Ans is the first child from his first marriage and I'm his last child from his last marriage."

Yvonne was just two when she met "this wonderful, free, bohemian person".

"I thought she was amazing, amazingly tall. I remember looking up at her. At that time she was eating a biscuit which she managed to swallow in one mouthful … I remember her saying to me 'One day you'll be able to do that, as well'."

When Ans arrived in New Zealand she already had an interest in photography, and became fascinated with the Māori family next-door, Yvonne says.

"She thought they were wonderful – genuine and open and free and quite the opposite of our family."

Although Ans is not well now, she is still taking photographs, even while in hospital, Yvonne says.

"I think if she was on her deathbed she'd be photographing".

One of Ans' personal favourites amongst her photographs is an image from Washday at the pa of a young Māori boy being swung in a kite by his sisters with a look of delight, David says.

Related links:

A living museum for Ans Westra
Ans Westra and David Alsop
Ans Westra: Damning Pictures
Spectrum: At the seashore with Ans Westra
Washday Remembered