Ans Westra

Photographs on pages 22 and 23 Annual 2

Ans was born in Leiden, Holland, in 1936 and qualified as an arts and crafts teacher from a specialised polytechnic in Rotterdam. In 1954 she began taking photographs as a hobby, inspired by The Family of Man exhibition by American photographer Eugene Smith. In 1957, aged twenty-one, Westra arrived in New Zealand to visit her father, who had earlier immigrated to this country. Ans began work as a freelance photojournalist, much of her work being for the School Publications branch of the Department of Education. 

In the early 1960s, Ans began to take the photographs of Māori for which she is probably best known today. Initially these images were for a book on the Māori people called Maori. The book took five years to produce and was published in 1966. She has said, “of all the different people who were living in New Zealand, I was most attracted to the Maori because they were the most open and had so much that excited me, inspired me to photograph them. There were also other customs and differences that interested me’”(1).

Ans has used the same twin lens Rolleiflex camera for many years. “It’s a waist-level camera … you don’t put it up to your eyes so you don’t obscure your own vision. People are not nearly so aware of a little box at waist level, so you don’t interrupt your own interaction with the scene, and I interact as little as possible … people seem to forget about me really.” (2)Today, Ans continues to document the lives of New Zealanders on film from her home base in the Hutt Valley. Her work continues the long tradition of documentary photography in this country, started by such well-known photographers as the Burton Brothers.

(1) Saker, John. (1986). City Interview: Ans Westra. Wellington City Magazine: April p 22
(2) Saker. (1986). p 21.

Taken from a text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa’s on-floor multimedia database.

Ans Westra at {Suite}

Located upstairs at 243 Cuba Street, Te Aro is the {Suite} living museum for Ans Westra, dedicated to celebrating the artist's life time of work and images. Visitors may browse through articles dating back to 1960 and view over 200 books featuring Ans' images.  Exhibitions change regularly alongside displays of the artist's ephemera.