The Land of the Long White Cloud

In the dirt the crack ingrounded
Where the earthquake once has pounded
The place where all the buildings lie
As smoke swirls up in the sky
And from the shattered homes comes smoke
Enough to make us cough and choke
Even though the families weep
At losses that are so deep
They’re held together by a little love
From the sky and stars above
Through the haze we see faint hope
Please give a little, help us cope

-“This is Canterbury”, Bella, age 12, Heaton Intermediate School, Christchurch, NZ
Christchurch Cathedral, 2011

Christchurch Cathedral, 2011

 In 2011, I was sitting in my office, working on reviewing some tediously mundane shop drawings, when my boss came over and informed me that there had been several earthquakes in New Zealand and asked me if I would be interested in going to do some investigative work. To which I responded, “of course boss, when and for how long?” He replied, “For six months, and you leave tomorrow!” After a quick phone call with my very understanding then-boyfriend, and a hasty packing job, I was en route across the world.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In a move very contradictory to my usually very reserved and obsessively over- planned lifestyle, on a whim I took up this opportunity to explore a different part of the world. I arrived in New Zealand (Christchurch) in late March in the pouring rain and drove (on the wrong side of the road) the ten miles to the hotel that would become my home for the next six months, passing by a number of houses which only hinted at the devastation I would eventually be witness to in the city. 

Within hours of my arrival (and with too little nap time to allow for recovery from the 30 hours of travel), I was on site, walking through a building who’s structural stability left much to be desired. In fact, my first several weeks in the country I spent immersed in the city center—the epicenter of the quake’s destruction—in what could only be described as a post-apocalyptic ghost town, the streets devoid of souls and littered with rubble.  Access was highly restricted; only those with special passes were admitted through the heavily militarized gates into the cordoned zone.  No attempts at cleanup had been made, barring what was necessary for search and rescue. 

Juxtaposed against the chaos and ruin of the city, the countryside provided a breathtaking reprieve. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, I promise you it does not disappoint. Within a relatively small area, the country offers a wealth of diversity in landscape. Every weekend, we traded the oppressively bleak cityscape for snow-capped mountains, fjords, glaciated rainforests and tropical beaches. Activities included everything from, trekking (that’s hiking for you non-Kiwis out there) across mountains, climbing glaciers, river tubing, jet boating, skiing, whale watching, soaking in hot springs, wading through cave streams, and of course, photographing everything in sight.

Perhaps then it was pride in the beauty of the land that inspired such resolve and determination amongst the people of Christchurch. Despite the devastation they had suffered, the locals I interacted with proved remarkably resilient in their support of one another, and in their decidedly hopeful attitudes.  Many I talked to even saw an opportunity to rebuild a better city; in the four years since the event, a creative renaissance has emerged amongst local artists, inspiring ingenuity in the form of malls built out of shipping containers, mini golf courses and gardens constructed in empty lots, and, in the case of one inventive woman, reclaimed furniture using wood from demolished structures (check out http://www.rekindle.org.nz/).

My own experience in New Zealand was eye opening, in terms of the devastation I witnessed, the amazing resolve of the people who worked to overcome it, and the overwhelming beauty of the country itself.  In fact it was in this country that my passion for photography really first started to manifest.  I developed a new-found respect for the awesome power of nature as both a creative and destructive force, and, inspired by the locals, was able to find beauty in the aftermath of destruction.