16 June, 2021
Keen collector shares passion for photography
Photography buff Grant Kerr says he caught the collecting bug as a child, starting with stamps at age eight, before moving on to prints and paintings in his student days studying law at the University of Otago.
Over the decades since, he has had “great fun” amassing one of the best private collections of New Zealand photography.
They Were Young Once is a selection of key works from the walls of his CBD office and his Stanley Point apartment, now on show at the Depot Artspace, as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography.
From Peter Peryer – who Kerr describes as the “grandfather of contemporary New Zealand photography” – come floral studies and unsettling juxtapositions in the landscape that even non-gallery goers may recognise.
These include Dead Steer (1987) showing a bloated carcass beside a country road, and “one that everyone likes particularly” of a slide descending into Lake Rotoiti. Angel Wings, a close-up of tropical foliage, and Tulips are also both on show.
“Peryer’s very good at flowers,” notes Kerr, adding: “My wife, Maggie Barry, tells me he is.”
He says the former North Shore National Party MP and cabinet minister (who had an earlier career as a broadcaster, including hosting Maggie’s Garden Show on televi- sion) says of tulips that “they’re one of the few flowers that die elegantly”.
The Dead Steer’s demise is more chal- lenging. In the 1990s, it prompted then Min- ister of Agriculture John Falloon to decry its inclusion in an exhibition travelling to Europe as bad publicity for the country’s meat trade.
Kerr, who accompanied Peryer on four road trips, got to know him in the late 1990s while they were both living in New Plymouth. He learned a lot from conversa- tions with the “exacting” artist, which led to his collecting focus shifting. “He talked to me about it [photography] and I got fired up,” says Kerr. “He wasn’t overtly a New Zealand photographer, but it was about his experience of living in New Zealand.”
Photography was also a more affordable interest, in that works by the best pho- tographers sell for a fraction of that of top painters.
Peryer, who died in 2018, once lived in Devonport, but Kerr himself has only been here a decade or so after his planned two years in New Plymouth turned into 32.
He was a founder of the Taranaki Arts Festival and also was involved in “snatching Womad from Auckland”.
Kerr took himself to Taranaki to use his law degree “before it was too late”. After his Dunedin days, when he flatted with artist Grahame Sydney, he had been diverted to London for three years, using it as a base to play international chess semi-professionally.
“I spent a lot of time in art galleries, because they were warm.”
Travel, taking in some galleries, was the plan for Kerr and Barry until Covid-19 struck. Instead they are renovating, with Barry working on a Master of Creative Writing as well.
Although in later years Kerr, now in his 70s, has bought a few prints by noted international photographers – helped by his daughter Imogen, who works for Christie’s auction house – his heart remains in New Zealand collecting.
Peryer makes up the bulk of his collection of around 300 “keeper” photographs, along with 50 or 60 works by Laurence Aberhart. Marti Freidlander, Anne Noble, Fiona Pardington and Yvonne Todd are among others represented.
With the zeal of his boyhood stamp-collecting, Kerr is always on the lookout to fill the odd gap in his line-up.
“I’m addicted of course,” he acknowledges. As to what might happen with the collection eventually, he is cagey, but notes that “we have to get a culture of philanthropy in there”.
The Devonport Flagstaff can be downloaded online here.
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