Capturing the real story for All Woman

All Woman is the title of a new portrait exhibition opening at the Millennium Art Gallery in Blenheim on Saturday.

Unlike the paintings by multiple artists in the just-shown Adams Portraiture Awards, images in All Woman are the works of just one: photographer Bev Short.

Photography has interested her since she was a child and she and her siblings had their lives documented on camera, first by her father using an old Box Brownie, then by her mother with an early Instamatic.

The compositions were nothing special, Short says; the children simply climbed on to a sofa, sat still and gave beguiling smiles.

Born in England in the 1960s then growing up in Scotland, Short has watched the roles of women change during her life. Many in her mother's generation grew up to get married, have babies, make cakes and keep the home fires burning.

New Zealand has been home for Short, who has two daughters, for the past 10 years. She wanted All Woman to document the new age of equal pay and (nearly) equal work opportunities. Her subjects include a firefighter, a body builder, a Carmelite nun, and an Olympic sportswoman wearing hair curlers while doing some ironing.

Finding out what made each woman "tick" helped her get honest profiles, she says. "I talk to people at great length before I even think about the concept of a photo. I find out about who they are and what they believe . . . and during those conversations I will get a hold of what they are and I'll think of some sort of conceptual idea about what they have told me."

To photograph former Green Party MP Jeanette Fitzsimons, Short met the environmentalist at her farm on the Coromandel.

"I stayed there; I talked to her all day on the first day and took the photo the next."

Short learnt that Fitzsimmons loved music, loved the violin and originally wanted to be a professional musician in an orchestra. That dream was never realised but it is remembered in Short's photograph of Fitzsimons, showing her playing a violin at her favourite swimming hole, surrounded by a peaceful, natural landscape.

All Woman can be viewed at the Millennium Art Gallery, Blenheim, from Saturday until March 18.

The Marlborough Express