A book inviting readers to explore the beauty of farming the New Zealand landscape.
For the Love of the Country: Celebrating Farming in New Zealand by Alan Gibson (Exisle Publishing, 2022), treats readers to a rich account full of characters and verdant landscapes. Though one might argue, its greatest value lies in Gibson’s ability to communicate the sense of intrinsic wealth which comes from caring for and cultivating the land.
New Zealand photographer, Alan Gibson, captures both grit and grace through his words and images—reflecting his deep affection for the country way of life. Story is imbued in the portraits which reveal personality and purpose, connection and community, accross all facets of farm life—a narrative on nature’s role in harvests of land and sea, from bee-keeping to mussel farming.
Q/A with Alan Gibson
What constitutes farming as showcased in this volume?
The term farming covers so many different ventures nowadays, everything from sheep & beef through to farming carbon. In this book the idea was to show some of the people involved in the mainstays of the New Zealand primary sector.
What makes New Zealand farm life unique and how is this expressed in their practices and produce?
Despite being a small country New Zealand has a diverse geography and climate. In the deep south farmers have to deal with snow storms killing young stock while those in the north never have to even think about such things. It’s that variation in climate that allows us to produce such a wide array of products. Subtropical crops (avocado, kiwifruit, passionfruit etc) in the north to some of the heaviest fine wool sheep fleeces from the cold south. Wines that love the warmth to those that come to life from bitterly cold growing conditions. Other mainstays, such as dairying, are practiced throughout the country but with regional differences.
Which experience or encounter from the book reflects your favourite wisdom of farm life in New Zealand?
Being invited to go along on the 4 day cattle muster on Glen Lyon Station in the high country was a career highlight for me. The New Zealand high country has a culture all of its own and being able to observe and record some of the nuances of it was a real privilege. It’s a unique way of life for the people immersed in it and is set in some of the most spectacular landscapes on this planet.
What is your process for capturing character (of place and people) in a photo?
I like to “sketch” with a camera which is a luxury we now have shooting digital files and not expensive and limited film. While photographing people this has the benefit of them becoming used to the camera which they eventually forget about and that’s when you get the real unguarded moments that can be magic.
Is there an arch to the narrative (lessons which reveal the heritage of open-space culture and a path forward for it’s future)?
In New Zealand farming practices have come a long way from the ethos of only a generation ago. The drive for increased sustainability and a lighter environmental footprint has really gathered momentum in recent years driven by a combination of regulation and customer expectation. While at times farmers have felt unfairly targeted for all the environmental degradation in the country they have really “grabbed the bull by the horns” with the fencing-off of waterways on their properties and also the surrounding areas. This is usually accompanied by the planting of trees and grasses to the water’s edge resulting in a whole host of environmental benefits from reduction in sediment loss to increased biodiversity to decreases in nutrient run-off. Urban populations would do well to follow the example of farmers doing what they can on their own properties but also demanding their local councils follow suit.
The book is a stirring homage to the overlooked value of farmers, how do you suggest people resonate this appreciation through their actions?
The whole point of doing the book was to help build a bridge between urban and rural cultures. In recent decades there has been a growing disconnect between the two. Nowadays people tend to forget where their food actually comes from. They need only think back to the feelings of dread we all felt as the reality and scale of the global Covid pandemic became apparent. All over the planet people descended upon supermarkets terrified that there wouldn’t be enough food for them, or worse, their children. Farmers kept farming and although there were problems in the supply chain the world still had food. Just imagine if the farmers did not keep producing. People could have easily found themselves fighting over the last bag of pasta instead of toilet paper.
Populations dependent on food being grown elsewhere and shipped to them need to spare a thought for those that have produced it and the system that has enabled them to go to bed without hunger. Consumers should be more informed about the story of their food and make a point of supporting producers who can demonstrate best practice in environmental standards, animal welfare and workers rights.
How can those of us living in urban areas apply the wisdom of this way of life?
I think those living in urban centres should spare a thought for the story behind the products they see at the places they buy their food. The vast majority of it is produced by people who are passionate about what they do and are proud that their efforts go someway to help feed a hungry world. All of the farmers in this book cared passionately for the environment that created their produce and all were taking steps to make sure that the environment was improved and not degraded as is often portrayed in the media. No farmer in their right mind would set out to destroy the thing that provides their livelihood. If all citizens living within an environment cared for it as much as a farmer must surely the entire planet would benefit.
Alan Gibson was raised on a remote hill country farm. Ever since he first picked up a camera as a child, he has wanted to record the people he grew up around and the world they inhabit. Alan knew the subject of this book intimately; he just had to find the right people to tell the New Zealand farming story.
For more than 25 years Alan Gibson has drawn on his passion for storytelling, working as a photojournalist both in NZ and the UK. Alan spent most of that time employed by The New Zealand Herald covering the central North Island, which he always regarded as a ‘dream job’ as it allowed him to record life in the landscapes and communities he loved. Alan has been awarded the NZ Press Photographer of the Year title six times (Junior & Senior) in the annual media awards. No one has matched that feat.
This gorgeous collection of photograph, accompanied by extended captions and insightful interviews, is a visual celebration of the New Zealand farmer and the landscape in which they live and work. Put together by one New Zealand’s top photojournalists, it tells the stories of the people who are the backbone of farming in this country, helping to bridge the gap in understanding between the urban population and those who produce their food.
Hardback with Jacket | 254 x 254mm | 160 Pages | Colour photographs | RRP: AU $59.99
Photos © Alan Gibson courtesy of Exisle Publishing.