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Members Talk: Discover Nature Boy

An evening with Ron Brownson, Shaun Higgins and Catherine Hammond
Members Lecture

Discover Nature Boy: The Photography of Olaf Petersen

An evening with Ron Brownson, Shaun Higgins and Catherine Hammond


Olaf Petersen photographed the landscape around him for 50 years, from when he got his first camera aged 18 in 1933 until the 1980s. His career as a freelance photographer and camera artist yielded more than 50,000 images. A record of their time, they also evidence the changes that have taken place over the past 70 years and as such are significant historic documents.

Join Ron Brownson, Senior Curator New Zealand Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and Shaun Higgins, Auckland Museum's Curator Pictorial, as they'll discuss the work of Olaf Petersen and the role of photography in New Zealand.

The curatorial talks are followed by a round table discussion moderated by Catherine Hammond, Hocken Librarian, University of Otago Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo.

'Nature Boy'. A talk by Shaun Higgins

Sand, surf and seabirds held a special fascination for Olaf Petersen. On his favourite place, the west coast of Auckland, he said ‘every time, provided you look for it there is something new.’ Growing up in Swanson and inspired by the morning mist on his farm, Petersen spent a life time photographing the outdoors, filling the frame with both natural and human subjects and returning to his favourite places for more. A two day pattern in the towering dunes at Wainamu, a sunlit path through wet sand at Pouto, they pulled at his imagination in pursuit of a ‘mood’. He took the Auckland Camera Club to Te Henga in 1943 to show them his world. He won the Davies Natural History award for I’m Late, and published a scientific study of the spotted shag. With the Auckland University Field Club he began to travel all over the country to remote offshore islands where tuatara would climb into sleeping bags and sold photographs to the Weekly News. Photographer and friend Alan Warren called him ‘Nature Boy’.

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Image: Olaf Petersen. 1968. Usual Spot. Auckland Museum. © Olaf Petersen Estate.
Shaun Higgins

About Shaun Higgins

​In his role as Curator Pictorial, at Auckland Museum, Shaun is responsible for collecting and researching photographic collections. His research interests range from early photographic history in both technology and practice, to its role in documenting social history, conflict and landscape. Focusing on evidence-based research and identification/attribution, he is interested in building a comprehensive record of local photography. He engages in both analogue and digital practice and has applied both historical and technical knowledge to exhibitions for two decades.

Recent work includes a number of papers on daguerreotype attribution and revealing one of Auckland’s earliest outdoor scenes in ambrotype. He has also contributed to a study of magic lantern slide lectures in Australia and New Zealand and several WWI centenary projects.

Image: Shaun Higgins
Ron Brownson

About Ron Brownson

Ron Brownson is Senior Curator, New Zealand Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. His recent exhibitions include: Choi Jeong Hwa Flower Chandelier (2011), Partner Dance: Gifts from the Patrons of the Gallery (with Natasha Conland) (2012), Home AKL: Artists of the Pacific Heritage in Auckland (with Kolokesa Māhina Tuai, Nina Tonga and Ema Tavola) (2012), Kinder’s Presence: John Kinder, Mark Adams, Chris Corson Scott, Haruhiko Sameshima (2013), Robert Ellis – Turangawaewae: A Place to Stand (2014), Len Casbolt – From Soft Focus to Sharp Vision (2016), Seeing Moana Oceania (2018), A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland (with Julia Waite) (2019) and Max Oettli: Visible Evidence, Photographs 1965–1975 (2021). He also edited Art Toi: New Zealand Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2011), a comprehensive overview of the Gallery’s New Zealand artworks.

Image: Ron Brownson (Credit: Courtesy of Auckland Art Gallery)
Catherine Hammond

About Catherine Hammond

Catherine Hammond is Hocken Librarian at Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago, Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo. She was previously Head of Documentary Heritage at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum and co-edited the publication that accompanied the exhibition Nature Boy: The Photography of Olaf Petersen (AUP, 2022). Prior to that Catherine was Research Library Manager at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki co-editing Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys (2019). She was managing editor of Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture (2007-2018) and Honorary Secretary of the Colin McCahon Research & Publication Trust (2014-2019). Website projects include the award-winning Whakamiharo Lindauer OnlineFind New Zealand Artists, and The Complete Frances Hodgkins. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from Victoria University and a BA in art history from The University of Auckland.

Image: Catherine Hammond