Photographer Ans Westra, best known for her work capturing the nation’s cultural and generational changes on film, has died aged 86.
What happened to Ans Westra?
The noted photographer Ans Westra died at the age of 86. She was regarded as one of New Zealand’s most important documentary photographers.
Stephanie Young tweeted the Post. It says
Bye and fly high, Ans Westra. You are a legend and leave an extraordinary legacy and life’s work for us to enjoy #photographer #legend
Westra was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and later in life developed dementia. In 1965 Westra returned to the Netherlands to live until 1969.
Someone has posted on Facebook that Ans Westra is gone. She asked me to do a book with her after this critique and told me the man in the mesh singlet was from Te Kaha. Maybe we were lucky to have her, I think we were. https://t.co/hZrEPs8RXn
— Talia Marshall (@princesstehangi) February 26, 2023
Cause of Death
Westra died at her home in Wellington on 26 February 2023, at the age of 86. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and later in life developed dementia. This is very devastating news for their loved ones.
Dollarsign posted a condolence message on Twitter
Farewell Ans Westra, cheers for taking this photo of my late great Aunty on the right having a smoko at the crown Lynn factory.
Who was Anna Jacoba Westra?
Anna Jacoba Westra CNZM was born in 28 April 1936. ?She is known as Ans Westra, a Dutch-born New Zealand photographer, well known for her depictions of Māori life in the 20th century. Her prominence as an artist was amplified by her controversial 1964 children’s book Washday at Pa.
Westra was born in 1936 in Leiden, Netherlands, the only child of Pieter Hein Westra and Hendrika Christina van Doorn.
In 1953, Westra moved to Rotterdam and began study at the Industries school voor Meisjes. She graduated in 1957 with a diploma in arts and craft teaching, specializing in artistic needlework, and the same year, she left the Netherlands for New Zealand. She became a naturalized New Zealand citizen in 1963.
Initial interest in photography
Ans Westra was exposed to photography as a teenager by her stepfather. A visit in 1956 to the international exhibition The Family of Man in Amsterdam, together with a book by Joan van der Keukens, Wij Zijn 17 (We Are Seventeen), inspired Westra’s first photographic documentation, which featured her fellow students.
Her obsession with capturing the world through a camera was instilled after encountering the famous Family of Man exhibition in Amsterdam. This utopian, quasi-anthropological exhibition, curated by MoMA’s Edward Steichen, toured the world from 1955 to 1963 and was a major influence on Westra’s work, as was precocious teenager Joan van der Keuken’s 1955 photobook Wij Zijn 17, which depicts the lives of post-war Dutch youth.
In 1957, Westra traveled to New Zealand to visit her father who had earlier immigrated. She stayed in Auckland and worked for eight months at Crown Lynn Potteries.
On 20 April 2016 a museum in Wellington was established, dedicated to Westra’s work.
Westra faced criticism for her ownership of her images of Māori, that she built her career on images of Māori, and that the subjects and their relations are not able to use the photographs without asking Westra for permission. The content being through a Pākehā gaze is also criticized including the controversy of Washday at Pa.
Westra lived with rural Māori for five months, photographing typical daily life, and in 1964 her school bulletin Washday at Pa was published by the school publications section of the Department of Education and distributed to primary school classrooms throughout New Zealand. The book documents a large Māori family at their rural home in Ruatoria. The family was given the fictitious name “Wereta”, and listed as living “near Taihape” to protect their identities.
The living conditions of the family were seen as poor and their rural cottage was rundown. Concerns were raised, including by the Māori Women’s Welfare League, that the depiction of the Weretas would lead readers—impressionable children—to see the family as representative of all Māori. The league requested its withdrawal from schools, and soon after its release the journal was withdrawn by order of the Minister of Education at the request of the league.
One of my favourite photos of my grandfather’s tangi is this one of Hone Tūwhare taken by Ans Westra. He wrote a moving poem, Heemi, as a tribute to Baxter, published in the Listener soon after the tangi: https://t.co/sFp3Hw9h5P pic.twitter.com/s4rFF2HNba
— Jack McDonald (@tautokai) September 17, 2021
Honors and awards
Westra received a Certificate of Excellence from the New York World’s Fair photographic exhibition in 1964–1965. Westra was the Pacific regional winner of the Commonwealth Photography Award in 1986, traveling to the Philippines to photograph and then onwards to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and America. In the 1998 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Westra was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for photography services, and in 2007 she became an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon artist. In 2015, Westra received an honorary doctorate from Massey University in recognition of her long-standing contribution to New Zealand’s visual culture.
Condolence Posted on Social Media
Talia Marshall Posted
Someone has posted on Facebook that Ans Westra is gone. She asked me to do a book with her after this critique and told me the man in the mesh singlet was from Te Kaha. Maybe we were lucky to have her, I think we were.
It’s with sadness to learn of the passing of one of our most prolific photographers Ans Westra, who died at home today aged 86. A true pioneer of documentary photography, Ans was one of the first women to work in this area in Aotearoa, documenting our way of life along the way.
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