One of New Zealand's most distinguished photographers, Anne Noble conceptually explores through her camera lens our perceptions of nature, from the vastness of Antarctica to the majestic yet declining honeybee. The Wellington-based artist is a Fulbright Fellow and Arts Foundation New Zealand Laureate.Read More
Born in Whanganui, New Zealand, in 1954, Noble was raised Roman Catholic. Her photography at times concerns religious and spiritual subjects while also imbuing the ordinary with what has been called 'a state of Grace.'
Noble studied Fine Art at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts, graduating with a BFA in 1980 and an MFA in 1983. Her photo series 'The Whanganui' (1981—1982), a product of her love for the river and the play of light on water, propelled Noble to the forefront of public attention after it was shown at Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery in 1982 and later toured the country.
Spanning installations, landscape and documentary work in still and moving images, Anne Noble's art culminates in series that act as visual essays or narratives on particular places or subjects with which the artist has had an in-depth engagement.
In 1988 Noble shot the seminal early photo essay 'In the Presence of Angels: Photographs of the Contemplative Life' at Tyburn Convent in London. In black and white, the artist documented the quiet, contemplative life of the Benedictine nuns observing 'the great silence' of Saint Benedict's monastic rule.
In another black and white photographic essay series, 'Hidden Lives: The Work of Care' (1994), Noble documented the lives of five elderly intellectually disabled people and the family members who were their unsung carers.
One of Anne Noble's most colourful photo series, 'Ruby's Room' (1998—2007) was a nine-year collaborative portrait project between the artist and her daughter. It began informally whilst with friends at Ruby's 5th birthday. Noble playfully documented what Ruby did with food, food colouring, bubble gum, lipstick, and other objects, in brightly coloured but soft-edged close-ups of her mouth.
Across 45 French digital prints in the series Noble presents the energy, spontaneous pleasures, and innocence of childhood. The series was chosen for the keynote contemporary photography exhibition of the inaugural Paris Photo Quai Biennale at the Musée du Quai Branly in 2007.
Anne Noble began exploring the great southern continent of Antarctica as a subject in 2001. This obsession not only took her to the continent itself three times, but also distanced her from it as she explored and challenged the heroic and sublime image of Antarctica that has been commodified and circulated around the world.
For her 'Whiteout' (2002—2007) series, Noble pointed her lens to Antarctic icescapes concealed beneath a layer of dense white fog, absent of colour, horizon or any visual markers of place. Returning on a US National Science Foundation Grant in 2008 Noble captured the human traces in Antarctica — vehicles and heavy machinery, and the local monument Spoolhenge, a huge, monolithic arrangement of empty electrical cable spools erected by local workers.
From 2003 Noble also photographed Antarctic centres, travelling exhibits, and related attractions in Aquaria, across the United States, Norway, England, Scotland, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, in a quest to explore how Antarctica's image is produced.
In Conversation with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Noble noted, 'I find it fascinating that very few people have been to Antarctica and yet it exists in the global imaginary as a library of images that I like to refer to as the pre-existing "Antarctic photographic imaginary".'
Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica (2005), taken by the artist on an '11 Spectacular Days Antarctic Tour' cruise, highlights how tourist cruises cater to an experience of a pre-conceived image of Antarctica. The upper-half of the photograph shows a sublime scene of ice and water, the lower outdoor tables and chairs set for dinner.
Noble's more recent pictorial and conceptual fascination is with the humble bee, its form, its history, and its unstable future. Since the mid-2010s she has worked on several projects with scientists and researchers to present images highlighting their beauty, majesty, and fragility in the face of changing climate and harmful pesticides.
She has presented portraits of dead bees dusted with gold under the microscope, the intricate and beautiful images of plucked bees wings in the 'Eidolon' series (2014—2015), and in the 'Ediolon II' series, 3D printed reproductions of dead bees from her own hive in white resin photographed against a white ground. For the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary of art at QAGOMA, Noble presented her latest iteration in Conversatio: A cabinet of wonder (2018), a 'living photograph' — a beehive.
Anne Noble has received multiple awards for her photography, including Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2003, an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2009, US National Science Foundation Polar Medal (2011), a Fulbright Fellowship at Columbia College, Chicago (2014), and the Higashikawa International Photography Prize (2015).
She is also a Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at Massey University in Wellington.
Anne Noble has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include: A Line Between the Trees, Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand (2020); Phantasm, Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch (2018); Anne Noble: Ruby's Room, Musée du quai Branly, Paris (2007); Anne Noble: States of Grace, Dunedin Public Art Gallery (2001—2002).
Group exhibitions include: Antipodean Emanations: Cameraless Photographs from Australia and New Zealand, Monash Museum of Art, Melbourne (2018); Penguins and Ice: Photographs of Antarctica 1910—2010, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2011—2012); Antarctica: On Thin Ice, United Nations Headquarters, New York (2007); Toi Te Papa, Art of the Nation: 1940—Today, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (2004—2012).
In 2001 The Dunedin Public Art Gallery curated a major retrospective of her work. The resulting exhibition States of Grace, toured New Zealand 2001—2003. In 2005 and 2006 her work featured in exhibitions at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, in Berlin and the Patio Herreriano in Spain.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022