As the year hurtles to an end, in all of its flurry and urgency, photographer and stylist Greta van der Star shares a photo series that will immediately slow down your pace, calm your mind and allow your eyes to wash over forgotten landscapes.
The third local artist to show at the Penny Sage Pop-up store is one of the most beautiful humans I know. Contagiously warm, always grounded, and a wonderful listener. It is, perhaps, these same qualities that feed her ability to capture fleeting moments of brilliant light, colour and composition.
I was lucky enough to get to ask Greta a few questions about her current installation of images that were taken while on a recent trip across the United States of America…
What was on your mind while you were shooting this image series?
During the journey I was thinking a lot about these surreal landscapes we seek out and visit, the infrastructure we build to experience them and our expectations of these places. We travel to seek inspiration and new experiences, with high expectations for what we will find.
We build infrastructures to support these journeys; highways, motels, restaurants, gas stations. And then we build more direct highways to fasten our journey to these desirable locations, new motel complexes to replace those that have been bypassed, new gas stations for convenience, and we disregard old infrastructure, leaving them peppered along a forgotten highway system. These forgotten spaces become overgrown, dilapidated and create a new landscape.
The series aims to compare natural landscapes with human-influenced landscapes, created to enjoy an idea of paradise.
These images were taken on your recent trip to the states. Tell us about your time there and any stand out moments.
My recent trip to the States involved two weeks driving through the South West, lugging heavy camera gear, many burgers, talking to cowboys and demanding road-stop stops whenever I could get away with it!
One of my favourite moments was approaching the Mojave Desert just before nightfall, we drove into lavender skies that turned into pitch black darkness as we reached the national park. We passed one car in the space of two hours, the only light source being our headlights, grazing over Joshua Trees that reached out to the roadside. It felt incredibly lonely, scary and magical.
In one particularly small town, whilst playing pool in a dive bar, we were privy to a conversation between the guy behind us and his recently found lover over mobile phone. He had one week before he was going to prison and they were planning his first trip to the ocean to smell the salt air.
I absolutely love your landscapes, they’re truly mesmerising. Can you tell us about some of these places?
I tend to be drawn to the desert, it’s such an extreme environment. Not much can survive in the heat, and the creatures that do are dangerous. Going for hikes over million-year-old boulders, into landscapes that seem to stretch on for infinity. It’s the quietest place I’ve ever experienced.
There is a real nostalgia present in your images. What do you think draws your eye to that kind of Americana aesthetic?
Perhaps it’s that everything is a little worn-in and imperfect, like a good pair jeans or a rumpled t-shirt. Everything feels better with age and experience. An analogue approach to shooting also lends itself to warm, familiar images, with a bit of texture.
Travelling is obviously inspiring, but when you can’t travel, where do you turn for inspiration?
Books, gardens, local landscapes and bush walks, movies. I’m also lucky that I have so many creative and intelligent friends, willing to discuss ideas and try things out. They’re very inspiring.
With the invitation to show your work inside the Penny Sage Pop-up store, did this steer your decision making in terms of what which images you wanted to show at all?
It was important for me to put images together that felt like they would fit with Kate’s clothing and aesthetic. The colour palette pulls on some of the tones from her summer collection, and I asked her opinion on the final line up before going to print. The images are also printed on 100% cotton paper, I love that Kate’s clothing is made from natural fibres so it seemed like the right approach.
What are some of your favourite local spots back home?
My favourite place at the moment is an eco bach in Pakiri, it has an olive grove, and orchard with hammocks and a bush trail to the beach. The landscape there is incredible; white dunes and wild sea.
More locally; Thornes Bay, the rocks between Takapuna and O’Neills Ave, my granddads green house, the Winter Gardens and the beaches out west for good walks and lake swims. Also, driving the Thames Coast highway! You can’t beat that.
What are you currently working on?
Some medium format portraits and landscapes and issue three of The Periodic Journal.
What are your plans for summer?
As many beach trips as possible! I have some friends visiting from the UK so I’ll be showing them around, taking them to Pakiri, Waiheke and some fave local restaurants like Casita Miro and Coco’s Cantina.
In the busiest time of the year, treat yourself to a viewing session of these transportable images at Penny Sage’s Pop-up store, above Flotsam & Jetsam, 84 Ponsonby Road.
All images are printed on 100% Cotton Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper.
Print technology: Archival inkjet print using Ultrachrome ink on an Epsom Stylus printer.
1. Badlands 89, shot in Arizona, digital, $500, limited to 6+ AP
2. Dustbowl Dance, shot in Arizona, digital, $500, limited to 6 +AP
3. Paradise Palace, shot in Loa Angeles, digital, $350 limited to 12 + AP 4. Queen Valley, California, 35mm Film, $350 limited to 12 + AP
5. Lake Side Drive, Los Angeles, 35mm Film, $350 limited to 12 + AP 6. Eat Here, Arizona, 35mm Film, $350 limited to 12 + AP
7. Phantom Point, Arizona, 35mm Film, $350 limited to 12 + AP
Follow Greta van der Star on Instagram, here.