25 Aug 2017

A snapshot of the Christchurch rebuild

From Christchurch Dilemmas, 6:00 am on 25 August 2017

Each day photographer Doc Ross leaves his Sydenham studio and walks into the city centre. He has his camera with him it's just a small one.

Doc says he likes to remain invisible to his subjects, the people of Christchurch.

“Every day I go for a walk around the city for a couple of hours documenting the changes in the city since the earthquakes. I've been doing that for the last seven years really.”

At last count, he’d taken 17,000 images and most of the people he’s photographed would have no idea their picture had been taken.

He has a unique perspective. His images capture not just the physical changes to the city environment, but the emotional transition of its people too.

“Initially people looked depressed and dishevelled I guess would be the best way to describe it.

"Down by the bus exchange, I saw this guy standing there and his head was bowed and his arms were hanging limp to the ground, and even though his posture may have nothing to do with what was going on, to me it exemplified how the city felt.”

“I think we cared a whole lot less about how we may have looked, but we cared a lot more for people we met on the street.”

He says the central city is busier and the mood brighter now, and has noticed how new retail developments have introduced a younger ‘set’ into the centre of town.

But the photographer-cum-philosopher isn’t convinced the rebuild has resulted in an emotionally healthy city.

“if you don't look you don't see … and I think that probably reflects on governments and the rebuild in general. If you go about your job and don’t really look and just try and make a functioning city that you'll miss the finer points.”

Raf Manji believes the city rebuild has “got to a point where it’s starting to drift".

Manji, a Christchurch City councillor, is standing for Ilam in the upcoming general election but is making the central city rebuild a key campaign issue.

“We need a review of the Blueprint and we kind of need to set a course for a new direction for the city that ultimately delivers certainty to the people of Christchurch.”

Christchurch Central Labour candidate Duncan Webb points to the empty East Frame anchor project, “what we need is a lot more people living right here in the city.”

Nicky Wagner, Minister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, admits some of the anchor projects have taken longer than expected. “When we look internationally we know that it takes probably 10 years, some people say 25 years, to get a city back to where it was before.”

Ross hopes that “whatever they end up doing with it, does it justice”.

“If you create the environment for a diversity to exist, then you'll have a diverse city. If you don't you end up with another Canberra.”