Street photographer Mary Hutchinson: 'A voice for the unfamous people'

by Sarah Lang / 01 April, 2017
Photography by Mary Hutchinson

Wellington street photographer Mary Hutchinson is inspired by the idea of being “a voice for the unfamous people”.

A biker wearing a skeleton mask roars past a Charcoal Chicken shop. Two men wearing shades edge around a man lying on a street corner. A group of Hare Krishnas sing and play instruments as they dance, one carrying an amplifier.

These are three of many moments frozen in time by photographer Mary Hutchinson on Cuba St, perhaps Wellington’s most-wandered street – and certainly its coolest. A part-time GP, she lives in nearby Mt Cook, and this is her ’hood.

“Hall Street, October 1, 2011”.

“Hall Street, October 1, 2011”.

Last May, Hutchinson chose 60 Cuba St photos for her third book of black-and-white photography, Cuba People, self-published to time with her eponymous exhibition at Cuba St’s Thistle Hall. Various passersby recognised friends in the prints, and told her about the people pictured. Some told those friends to stop by. “Two women from the Hare Krishna photo came in, all excited,” she says. “They filmed me beside the photo, and I photographed them beside it. That was so much fun.”

“John, Constable Street, December 22, 2014”.

“John, Constable Street, December 22, 2014”.

Some of those images were taken at last year’s CubaDupa festival, the two-day Wellington street party celebrating Cuba St’s creative spirit. This year, Hutchinson’s Cuba People Two exhibition of 25 new photos will show at MatchBox gallery from March 13 to CubaDupa weekend (March 25-26), accompanied by a sequel photobook of 50 previously unpublished pictures. She’ll be there at CubaDupa, her Nikon D610 hanging around her neck.

Hutchinson, who photographs in black and white like the pioneers of street photography, follows their advice of trying to make yourself invisible. “Moving slowly is part of it,” she says. “I do lurk.” Legally, you can photograph anyone in public, but often she asks permission first or – when the moment’s about to vanish – afterwards. The vast majority says yes, and she offers to email them copies. “Sometimes, people are unaware they’ve been photographed, but I use discretion as to whether I think they’ll mind or not.”

“April 22, 2015”.

“April 22, 2015”.

In Cuba People’s introduction, she quotes photography legend Mary Ellen Mark, who wanted to be “a voice for the unfamous people”. That resonates with Hutchinson, as a Christian and as a doctor. Consequently, homeless people, beggars and addicts populate the pages of Cuba People and her book Newtown Forever, which accompanied her pop-up exhibition at the 2016 Newtown Festival (returning this year on March 5). “That’s partly because I see those people around, and partly because they often get blanked by people like me. I want to balance that out a bit.” She doesn’t photograph any former patients, though. “That’d be a power imbalance.”

“March 1, 2015”.

“March 1, 2015”.

A 56-year-old grandmother, Hutchinson works part-time at Massey University’s student health centre and spent 15 years as a GP at a low-income clinic in Newtown. In 2010, she cut back her hours to pursue other interests and started taking photography courses, turning her focus to fungi.

“My family thought I was crazy, crawling around the green belt. But I wasn’t very good at macro photography.” And the streets were calling her name. Now her books of photography are stocked at Wellington book and gift shops, and are available at, as are individual prints.

“September 12, 2015”.

“September 12, 2015”.

“I want to show our shared human-ness and the contrasting lifestyles in our urban communities,” she says. “But anything can catch my eye: a zany hat, patterns and shadows, expressive older faces. I once photographed an older man with amazing eyes. I didn’t know him but a friend did, and she gave his family a copy after he died. That’s what moves me: the times in life when something unexpectedly joins up.”


This was published in the March 2017 issue of North & South.

Get North & South delivered to your inbox

/Northandsouthnz @Northandsouthmag @Northsouthnz



The key to long-term success after weight-loss surgery
107438 2019-06-26 00:00:00Z Health

The key to long-term success after weight-loss sur…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Weight-loss surgery is becoming more common, but lifestyle and attitude changes are needed for long-term success.

Read more
Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family recipes
107605 2019-06-25 11:39:22Z Food

Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family rec…

by Lauraine Jacobs

Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki.

Read more
Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's going to make a better world
107579 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's g…

by Emma Clifton

The MP made world headlines when she cycled to hospital to give birth. She talks about how this put her and what she stands for in the spotlight.

Read more
Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky in the road
107472 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky…

by Russell Baillie

The fourth Toy Story instalment is clever, enjoyable and refreshingly weird.

Read more
Mitre 10 living wage ruling sets precedent for retail staff - union
Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebook and Google
107596 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebo…

by Peter Griffin

In the wake of data-privacy scandals, Apple is beefing up protection for owners of its devices.

Read more
Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying tax
107563 2019-06-24 16:28:59Z Business

Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying…

by Nikki Mandow

We are pretty good about paying our taxes here, so why would we willingly go along with avoiding GST?

Read more
Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs crackdown?
107530 2019-06-24 10:19:12Z Business

Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs…

by Nikki Mandow

New Zealand retailers hit by a GST rort that has been going on for at least two years hope officials, Trade Me, ministers and even customers will...

Read more