Hard on the Heels

By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman

Hard on the Heels, Peter Bush, Capturing the All Blacks

Closing on October 30, this photography exhibition at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea is well worth a look. Peter Bush has been photographing the All Blacks for over 50 years, and he achieved extraordinary access – sometimes by guile, sometimes by hard work, sometimes by sheer good fortune. Starting in 1949 as a news photographer for the New Zealand Herald, he went on to specialise in rugby. As he says “This was that wonderful period before television and video images shifted the still photographers off the privileged perch we had occupied for the last 50 years.”

As you enter the exhibition, the first big photo there is the famous shot entitled NZ vs East Glamorgan, Wales 1972/73. Sid Going leads the thundering herd out of the mist. An evocative image, one All Black (Sid Going) is seen clearly, with ball in hand running toward the try-line, while shadows of the other players are seen in the mist. In the documentary which is part of the exhibition, Peter Bush explains that he was standing on the try-line, almost on the field of play, with his 200mm lens – he modestly said that he was in the right place with the right lens, however there is much more to it than that. His eye is unerring for the decisive shot and his images tell the story of what it is actually like to be a player – as close as most of us will ever get.  There’s a note, on another photograph from this Glamorgan match, about the game being played “under farcical conditions”. One assumes this is in reference to the fog – while great for powerful photographic images, it must have been hell to play in a game where the players couldn’t even see to the other end of the field.

The exhibition is set up with a 1950’s lounge suite, covered with crocheted rugs, set up around an old television set, from which Peter Bush talks to us in a documentary. The interesting thing about this is that I found myself looking at the prints on the walls, then I’d hear Peter telling a story about a particular image, and I’d dash back over and sit on the couch again to hear it, then get up and toddle off to look at the photos again. You get a sense from his comments in the documentary that he’s not too fond of the “namby pamby” replays we get today of every piece of on-field action.

There’s a powerful photograph of the All Blacks in Belfast, in 1972/73, going on to the field with armed soldiers, guns at the ready, flanking them. There had been terrorist threats that one player from each team would be shot, and in that time and place, the threat was taken very seriously. Peter Bush talks about that photograph – he said was a very long day, and extremely tense.

Some of the photographs make the viewer aware of how different things are now from the way they used to be. There’s an extraordinary photograph of Eden Park, a wide shot, and the field of play is covered with people, there’s even a spectator perched high on a goal post. Apparently, the spectators used to walk onto the field after the match, as a sort of “pitch invasion”. If that happened today, there’d be police and media helicopters overhead, security battles, arrests, riots and general mayhem; in Peter’s photograph from 1956, it all looked rather peaceful and pleasant – people just milling about, talking about the game.

There are more modern photographs too – there’s a brilliant one of Dan Carter, in the rain, kicking as only he can. Peter Bush describes Dan Carter as the best first five he has seen in almost 60 years of covering rugby. Let’s hope Dan will be doing it all again soon.

So take a moment, go to the Wellington Museum of City and Sea, enjoy the marvellous permanent exhibitions, then visit the Hard on the Heels rugby photographs  – and when you watch the final remember that you’re part of a great tradition, whether on the field,  in the stands, or on the couch.

Photo of Peter Bush by Radio NZ, others from exhibition website.

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