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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Intriguing glimpse into patients and their lives

Dr Chris Reid (pictured above, with his book) has done something remarkable.

Armed with both his qualifications as a GP, and a diploma in photography, he came to New Zealand to practice both skills in the Far North.

After every 15-minute consultation, he asked the patient involved if he or she would mind having his or her photo taken.  To his surprise, as he says, everyone said, Yes.

The result is a book that memorialises the characters of a small community.

From the Northern Advocate

Peter de Graaf talks to a Northland doctor about a two-year project to photograph almost every one of his hundreds of patients, and the extraordinary book that resulted.

Most patients don't go to their GP for a consultation and end up with a portrait.

But then Chris Reid isn't most doctors.

This weekend sees the culmination of a project by the Bay of Islands GP to photograph virtually every patient that walked into his surgery during the past two years.

The result is an extraordinary collection of photographs capturing a cross-section of Northland society - from an ex-pat billionaire to struggling solo mums, Maori and Pakeha, toddlers and nonagenarians. There are mothers and daughters, couples, mates, kuia and kaumatua, and a few people who have since passed away but whose families still wanted the photos to be used.

The images are a mix of colour and black and white, all but two taken against the bare grey wall of his surgery in the natural light of a single window.

The idea came to Dr Reid when he was making house calls as a GP in England more than a decade ago.

"It dawned on me what a privilege that was, walking into these people's lives. If you could capture that it would something quite special."

And, in 2004, he moved to New Zealand, where the idea was put on hold until his wife, Sara, gave him a fancy camera. And then ....

One lunch time he nipped out to a nearby hardware store for a tin of paint and, with help from a nurse, turned one wall into a suitable backdrop. He still had no idea how his patients would react.
The GP always waited until the consultation was over before asking if he could take a picture. He made it clear there'd be no ill feelings if the patient refused and that he was trying to capture the person, not the reason for the visit. His subjects also had to give written consent.

"If the first half dozen had said, 'You're dreaming', it would never have gone any further," Dr Reid said.

To his surprise, however, the first patient said yes. And the second, and the third.
Of the more than 400 patients he asked only two said no, and one of those later changed her mind. Ironically her portrait is one of the most powerful in the book.

Dr Reid never asked his patients to pose, "they just did what they wanted".

The result was so rich and evocative that it became obvious that a selection should be turned into a book.  Penguin (now Penguin-Random) turned it down, but iconic Kiwi publisher Craig Potton saw the potential.

Then came the hard part. The 400-plus photos had to be whittled down to the 150 or so that would fit in a book, a choice made on photographic merit and, in a few cases, the story behind the photo. The subjects, who are identified only by their first names, decided what would accompany their portraits.

Some wanted the briefest of captions, explaining their reason for visiting the doctor; others brought in virtual life stories. 

The book and accompanying exhibition were launched at Kerikeri's Turner Centre last night. All patients featured in the book were invited. Royalties from the book, and the profits from any prints sold, will go to Mid North St John.

Dr Reid said he had been touched by the number of patients who had asked him when "our book" would be ready.

"I think it's a social commentary of Northland, of who we are. Hopefully I've captured something of what our community is all about. There's a lovely link to us all."

* The exhibition will run from October 11-27 at the Turner Centre on Cobham Rd, Kerikeri. The large images will then go on display at Kaan Zamaan on Kerikeri's Hobson Ave and the small ones at Just Imagine in Russell. In mid-December the photos will go on show at the Auckland Camera Centre on New North Rd.

For readers who can't possibly get to the exhibition, here is a short gallery

And this one is my favorite:

His name is Foster.

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