The following is Alan Knowles' speech notes from his brief talk during the opening of 'Authors - Photographs by Alan Knowles'. Speakers at the opening were Juliet Blyth - CEO of Read NZ, Northern Ward City Councillor Jill Day and Mark Beehre of Photography Aotearoa. All photos on this page: John Williams.
"When Mark, James and John approached me to do this exhibition they imagined 20 photographs in a row … well … they got that and some. Thanks guys for your indulgence and big effort in getting this show up, and thanks for the council for chipping in. To those who are not up here, I tried – you are not forgotten.
Now, if you are wondering about the hat, it was a master stroke inflicted on us by Karen Ross before our WOW tour of Otago and Southland. Perhaps she thought we needed a uniform to unite us, and in a way it did. Writers and photographers are generally not team players and the hats became kicking boys to be defiantly left in the motel. As you see it only appears once on the head of The Southern Man.
That is except for goody goody two shoes here who did as mother asked and wore his hat. Everyone signed it, Brigid added a couple of Xxs, dear girl, and I cadged badges off the school principals we visited. So there we have Southland Girls High, James Hargest, Gore High, St Anglem College, St Peters, a deer tag from my brother's farm in Lumsden, and a feather from Oreti Beach.
Thankyou for coming along to celebrate authors everywhere who entertain, inform, infuriate and delight us. I salute their courage to challenge despots large and small and their dogged perseverance in sharing their thoughts. Writing is hard, solitary work and we are fortunate to live in a culture that, to quote PEN NZ, defends the right to freedom of expression, and right to fair reward.
Recently authors went public seeking better remuneration, and I support them, as writing is poorly paid. And, please writers, remember your poor photographer cousins who are also not handsomely remunerated by your publishers and editors.
Like writing, photography is hard lonely work. There's heavy and expensive equipment to be lugged about, and scary situations to confront to get the picture. This followed by hours of confinement in the darkroom or at the computer sorting, editing and adjusting the images and arranging outlets for them.
Both disciplines, writing and photography, are corner stones of our liberal democratic culture and are too often taken for granted. Perhaps because of their ubiquitous nature they are under threat by political correctness, cancel culture, fake news and despots within our little families and nation states who seek to suppress the truth.
Behind every portrait here is a huge back story of experience, scholarship, research, reading, self doubt, personal peril and above all, courage.
Author and Governor General, Sir Bernard Ferguson, came to my school in Timaru when I was in the fourth form. “Boys” he said, adjusting his monocle, “There are very few natural leaders among us, less than 10%, and of those only half will lead you in the right direction. Its for you to decide who to follow.”
I see authors as leaders who speak out against hypocrisy and lies. As followers, the least we can do is send them messages of support.
To quote Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka over there, who honoured us with his presence in Wellington: “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism,” and “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.”
He was imprisoned in Nigeria for his beliefs. Then there is Jung Chang & Michael Halliday whose book Mao The Unknown Story exposed the deaths of 70 million Chinese citizens in peacetime.
All these photographs were taken while authors were on tour. You might think what a romantic existence – I'm not so sure.
I have been in the Green Room of the Embassy with some of them and sensed first hand their fear of public speaking. I have toured with writers who go into paroxysms of doubt over what they'll say to a bunch of school kids; because by nature they would rather be back in their studios writing. Yet here they are staring down their demons and courageously exercising their right, and our right, to free speech.
And in the middle of all this stress some bloke called Knowles pops up and wants to take their photograph! Thankfully most said yes.
Writers deserve our support - we need to buy their books, and read them, if just to enter a different echo chamber than the one we inhabit. For if we don't read we have no right to rule."
Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth - Soyinka
Waitohi - Johnsonville Library, Wellington
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