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

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”.

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”.

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at MatchBox gallery from March 13 to CubaDupa weekend (March 25-26), accompanied by a sequel photobook of 50 previously unpublished pictures.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”.

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”.

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 maryhutchinson.co, as are individual prints.

“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.

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