Edge of the East – The Christchurch Documentary Project

We’re in love. Our darling may be getting on, but to us she’s always beautiful.

Bruce Ansley’s memoir-cum-love-letter to New Brighton Gods and little fishes: a boy and a beach defines a sentiment shared by many in the east. You only need to cross the dunes and set foot on the broad stretch of beach that is as rich in character as the community it sustains, to know this place is a taonga. Collectively the communities from Waimairi to Southshore define the eastern edge of a city that since the 1980s has flowed steadily west, against the run of the Avon and away from the expanse of the South Pacific Ocean. Change has been present long before the Canterbury earthquakes turned the city on its head, and will continue with the New Brighton Centre Master Plan, the New Brighton Project and other local enterprises aiming to breathe new life into the beach suburbs.

Waimairi Beach, North Beach, New Brighton, South Brighton and Southshore – it’s these iconic Christchurch seaside communities and the people who proudly call them home that have been the focus of three documentary photography students from the University of Canterbury, School of Fine Arts: Janneth Gil, Rachel Pugh and Tegan Hollis-Ristow. The resultant work, Edge of the East, is a portrait of a beloved piece of Christchurch and the latest addition to The Christchurch Documentary Project, a contemporary photographic archive produced in collaboration with Christchurch City Libraries and the University of Canterbury.

Edge of the East, 2016

Beginning with The Halswell Project in 2015, The Christchurch Documentary Project set out to create a documentary photographic record of communities across our city. Over the course of five years, talented photography students are hitting the streets to document the people and physical environment of Christchurch communities.

At the completion of Edge of the East, I caught up with Janneth, Rachel and Tegan, to ask them about their experience working on this project.

Janneth Gil

I liked the process of working with and learning from the community and then at the same time doing something of value for them. This is going to be a record that in a few years’ time will give a little taste of the past. For today though, through this work others can learn something about New Brighton and what it has to offer. The place has an active sense of community and a strong local commitment to celebrating and improving the area. People there still have such a strong sense of belonging.

View Edge of the East, 2016 images by Janneth Gil

Tegan Hollis-Ristow

For me, I have been discovering New Brighton through this project. The defining moment was the whale stranding at Waimairi Beach. Standing in the middle of two hundred people who had all brought their own buckets and towels down to the beach to save this whale was pretty special. I felt like I was part of something, part of a community rather than just an outsider trying to capture a moment.

View Edge of the East, 2016 images by Tegan Hollis-Ristow

Rachel Pugh

They were so pleased we were there and someone was paying attention. “There’s a beating heart of Christchurch out here,” a man told me when I took his picture, “and nobody is listening to it.” That was the impression I got from people on the street and that’s what really impressed me about New Brighton and the east - the resilience and creativity of the residents there. We may only be three student photographers working over a year, but if at the end of this we’ve managed to capture a snapshot of life in the east, then we know we’ve succeeded. Building off last year’s Halswell Project is equally exciting, because if we can turn this into something bigger, well, that’s a success in my book.

View Edge of the East, 2016 images by Rachel Pugh

Sam Ludemann
Associate Team Leader

In 2016 Janneth Gil, Tegan Hollis-Ristow, and Rachel Pugh from the School of Fine Arts photographed the Edge of the East - Christchurch seaside communities from Waimairi Beach to Southshore.

Look out for the exhibition at the newly reopened New Brighton Library this autumn.

Our magazine uncover — huraina

This interview was published in the second edition of our quarterly magazine, uncover — huraina. It is our newest channel to help you explore and celebrate the resources, content, events, programmes and people of Christchurch City Libraries, Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi.