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THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 25, 2011
Rugby men: David Matches in front of part of his exhibition of rugby portraits.
Photo: GREG WHITBURN
By GREG WHITBURN
Why are New Zealanders
so nuts about rugby?
That question has
brought English photographer
David Matches to New Zealand
five of the last six years -- cul-
minating in his aptly named exhi-
bition, The Match.
The New Zealand Portrait Gal-
lery is showcasing Matches' exhi-
bition, featuring rugby players
from around New Zealand --
including All Blacks, club players,
and even a few golden oldies.
Matches said he chose rugby
players and New Zealand because
of our almost obsession with the
game, which arouses notions of
Why do we get so excited? The
way it means so much is a little
bit nuts, and fascinating,'' he said.
No country really has a
relationship with a sport quite
like New Zealand.''
The photographs were taken
immediately after rugby games,
as the players walked to the
adrenalin and emotion dissi-
Getting to know subjects in the
aftermath of the game tells so
much more than the game itself,''
We're used to the action telling
the story, but the people on their
own hold so much information.
There's something mysterious
about the players on their own.
The adrenalin starts evaporating,
but the physical and psychological
evidence is still there.''
One of Matches' inspirations is
Dutch photographer Rineke Dijk-
stra, who photographed mothers
an hour after giving birth, then
again one day later, then one
He said Dijkstra's portraiture
succeeded because they were
portraits of experience, not just
portraits of a person.
You can learn from it, which is
amazing that a photograph can do
that,'' Matches said.
Portrait Gallery director Avenal
McKinnon said The Match was
the biggest and most complex
exhibition the gallery had
The visual impact of these
works is huge, and no matter
what the individual viewer's atti-
tude to rugby, the effect of such
raw emotion and energy is ines-
capable,'' she said.
Matches said he felt sport gave
people an outlet to express their
personality. There was this old
guy, after winning. He showed a
modest pride. A very Kiwi modest
sort of thing.''
The portraits were taken using
an old 10 x 8 Bellows camera, with
Matches crouched beneath a
blanket to focus the shots.
Initially, this was because the
old camera captured greater
detail than digital, but the process
also resulted in better photo-
performances from the players,
[It] slows the process down,
gives each photo a sense of
It's just the best. The old cam-
era gives better resolution, subtle
variations of tone that you don't
get with digital. It's all infor-
mation -- without that information
there's no story,'' he said.
Matches picked his subjects by
watching the rugby games and
looking for characters who stood
out. After the game he took a
single photograph per player,
without composing the photo or
telling them what to do, he said.
Portraiture is about the subject
rather than the photographer. It's
having faith in the subject, rather
than trying to elicit anything
specific. Not try to dramatise or
control the subject.''
In England, Matches works in
the film industry as a camera
assistant on music videos, tele-
vision commercials and movies,
but he decided to venture over to
New Zealand for his first pho-
For me, it was a time when I
could do this and have fun,
because you work better when it's
fun. So I hired a campervan and
came over for the winter,'' he said.
When you strip away the
sounds and movement, it tells a
big story. If you can tell that story,
you've achieved what portraiture
sets out to do.''
Coming from a football back-
ground, Matches' obvious choice
for a photography project was not
He said he chose to explore the
spectrum of rugby in New Zealand
because there was a strong and
unique connection to the sport.
Why has New Zealand been
the best for 100 years when it's
such a small country?''
The Match, by David Matches, will
be at The New Zealand Portrait
Gallery, Shed 11 on the waterfront,
until October 16.
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