Berlin-based photographer Carola Plöchinger captured the geothermal gems in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty region addressing the vulnerability of the landscape and nature itself.
June 26, 2021
In order to realize personal artistic projects, I set out on a three-month journey from Japan to New Zealand in the end of 2018. To really understand a place, I like to travel slowly, immersing myself in it rather than just passing by. For this reason, I spent a large part of my travel as a dog sitter, which allowed me to sort of live the life of a local, while exploring the landscape as a photographer.
For me, it’s important to pay tribute to the places where I create my work, and above all, to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land. In this case, the Te Arawa Māori. Especially because the geothermal wonders in and around Rotorua in the Bay ‚Of Plenty‘ region are revered by the Te Arawa, and they have lived there for hundreds of years. Among the Māori, it is customary to introduce oneself by name and reference to one’s origin, for example, an ancestral mountain, as I’ve been told by a Kiwi whom I met on the local bus to Dunedin.
Nevertheless, I refrain from naming the places that can be seen in my series. Mainly to protect them, because I can’t bear to imagine the harmful things that disrespectful and careless people might do to the less touristy, sensitive areas – such as using them as selfie spots and leaving swaths of destruction in their wake.
Right after photographing, I’m rarely ever satisfied with the images I’ve managed to manifest – perhaps because they can’t reflect the complete experience I felt at that moment. So I put them aside, let them ‘ripe,’ and come back when I’m ready to confront myself with my own shortcomings and give them the attention and work they deserve. From there, I add or subtract, shaping the image more like a sculpture to come closer to my memories – some places stay within me for a long time or permanently, and I can revisit them in my imagination – but the mind is a tricky thing. Or, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in ‘Flow’: ‘the past can never be literally true in memory: it must be continuously edited, and the question is only whether we take creative control of the editing or not.’ My imagination over time puts layers over the memory, and in this sense, you could say that the locations are part of my inner world.
Just as described in the butterfly effect of chaos theory, I think that small interventions and changes can have enormous consequences in a later state.
I also believe that the world we live in is an interconnected complex web. In ‘Of Plenty,’ I focused on the tinier parts of matter, the details and subtleties that are so fragile in my perception. Just as described in the butterfly effect of chaos theory, I think that small interventions and changes can have enormous consequences in a later state. And that goes both ways. But we can only change for good by respecting and appreciating the beauty of the small parts of the big whole.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in ‘Flow’: ‘the past can never be literally true in memory: it must be continuously edited, and the question is only whether we take creative control of the editing or not.’
There is a term by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht called ‘Solastalgia’ that describes the distress caused by environmental changes that affect local communities. I can relate to this notion very well. My former partner is Italian from Puglia and I have had a strong connection to Italy all my life. The landscape in the Salento region of Puglia is characterized by centuries-old olive trees. The groves are symbols of the region with emotional value, and are passed down from one generation to the next.
For more than seven years, the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which has a long phytosanitary history in the Americas, has been eating its way through the olive groves of southern Italy. The plague did not even spare the ancient 'Giant of Alliste', more than 1,500 years old, now a monumental, withered trunk without foliage, a sad symbol of the slow but steady decay.
Of course, monocultures and climate change have played their part in the region now losing not only its iconic nature, but also its most important source of livelihood.
"Regarding landscape photography, being alone is a central part of my practice. I find peace in nature and comfort in solitude"
Regarding landscape photography, being alone is a central part of my practice. It provides me with the awareness and appreciation of what is right in front of me and can even lead to a nearly meditative state of mind where I feel like in a silent, beautiful conversation with a place. That might sound a little weird, but for me, objects have a presence that one can get in touch with, and some locations make you slow down or feel like being wrapped in a blanket.
Light is always a deciding factor for me. For other subjects, I sometimes meticulously plan the angle at which the sun is reflected in this or that window, but when you’re out dog-sitting in New Zealand, you have other schedules to follow. And you may find yourself in a place at a time of day that no photographer would ever voluntarily chose. But since I try to follow the leitmotif ‘Don’t expect anything, be open to everything’ (Jeppe Hein), it may be that nature takes you to places that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, and you find beauty where you least expect it.”
Find the full series here: Of Plenty