Reviewed by Sarah Rhodes
Mercy Mercer tenderly captures the dignity of a place. Henderson’s images are still – offering viewers an intimate glimpse of life on the Waikato River, in the North Island of New Zealand. The delicate golden light captured on large format film blesses its subjects with a sense of immortality. While there is peacefulness in these images, there is also tension. The subjects are vulnerable, some living on low incomes and close to a power station which threatens the beauty and well-being of the land and Maori and Pukeha people. The town of Mercer is a place that is close to Henderson’s heart – a town near where he grew up. It is not surprising to learn that his mother was a preacher’s daughter. While the images are not religious and do not offer moral lessons, they embody a spirituality and a collective consciousness.
Henderson has taken a similar approach to Alec Soth’s Niagara series in that both photographers have taken a documentary approach to look at life on a river. Using an 8’’ x 10” camera they have spent time connecting with a community and portraying lives through portraiture and details of possessions. Mercy Mercer is Henderson’s second monograph looking at life in New Zealand and follows The Terrible Boredom of Paradise (2005).
Interestingly, Henderson and Soth are both artists who are also successful commercial photographers specialising in fashion. Henderson spent the last twenty years in New York, London and Los Angeles, before basing himself in Sydney. He is represented by leading photography agency M.A.P. Ltd and makes fashion television commercials through Curious Films, in Sydney. Mercy Mercer and Niagara are almost reactions against this glamorous and decadent world, which affords them their personal projects. Henderson has taken his talent of turning ordinary scenes into mysterious beauty for leading international magazines I-D magazine, Interview, Russh and Purple into the documentary world. As he states on the Curious Film website: “I think good photographers have a natural sense of light and composition, and also a sensitivity and an attention to detail, which can translate beautifully to film. I like to turn the mundane into the sublime, and I love extending this curiosity into film”.
This 140-page publication was published by New Zealand-based gallery and publisher Michael Lett. Signed copies can be purchased from Published Art, in Surry Hills, Sydney for $125. Limited edition copies are in a clam shell box with a choice of a photograph for $480.
More of Derek’s work can be viewed at his website.
A strong interest in art, documentary photography and cinematography has taken Sarah Rhodes on a delightful journey into the lives of others. From working as a photojournalist, to photographing artists and producing the coffee table book, The Artist’s Lunch, Sarah also finds herself using digital media to share stories about still and moving images in Australia.