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Auckland University Press

Nature Boy | The Photography of Olaf Petersen

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A gull chick running across Muriwai Beach. Cabbage trees at Lake Wainamu. Tyre tracks, tugs of war and tramping trips. Olaf Petersen produced an unrivalled photographic account of the people and natural world of Auckland’s wild west coast. Nature Boy introduces readers to this remarkable photographer and the landscape he made his own.

Olaf Petersen (1915–1994) grew up in Swanson and acquired his first camera aged eighteen in 1933. For the next fifty years this master of the Rolleiflex TLR and the Hasselblad 500 produced over 50,000 images charting the human impact on New Zealand’s natural environment.

In this book, essays by Shaun Higgins, Andrew Clifford and Kirstie Ross chronicle Petersen’s methods and techniques, his relationship to the ‘camera club’ photographers and the emerging photographic avant-garde, and his links to the trampers and scientists who engaged with the natural world of the Waitākere coast. Those essays are framed by reflections from two life-long daughters of the west, Sarah Hillary and Sandra Coney. Throughout, almost a hundred of Petersen’s evocative photographs provide a compelling visual narrative.

This beautiful book, published to coincide with a major exhibition at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, captures a seminal figure in twentieth-century New Zealand nature photography and the remarkable landscape he documented.