In 1985 a brand new role was created at the Sarjeant Gallery – Photographer and Designer. The first to fill that position was Neil Pardington. Neil, now creative director of the design agency Base Two and an award winning photographer of international renown, was kind enough to answer some questions about his time at the Sarjeant Gallery.
What did your role at the Sarjeant entail?
“It was my first job after graduating from Elam School of Fine Arts. The first thing I had to do for the job was to purchase the necessary photography equipment and set up a dark room – I call that a dream job!
My work involved all sorts of things. Photography: documenting exhibitions and works in the collection. Design: designing catalogues, invitations, newsletters, exhibition graphics etc. But I also helped install exhibitions, worked on the entry desk on the weekends once a month. I curated a Wayne Barrar exhibition – his first in a public gallery I believe – and on the back of that purchased some work for the photography collection. Bill Milbank, the director at that time, had a knack for putting trust in his staff and getting great outcomes because of that. It’s something I have always done with my own staff over the years. Thanks Bill!”
How do you think working here has impacted your career?
“Hugely! I was a trained photographer when I started the job, but had only really designed a few posters for my own film screenings – so had little experience as a designer. I basically had to learn about design on the job – and found I loved it. I’m still designing for art galleries and publishers today – my most recent project the Five Maori Painters identity and catalogue for Auckland Art Gallery. So it was really my job at the Sarjeant that set me on that path.”
You shared a darkroom with Laurence Aberhart, the first Tylee Resident, how did that influence you?
“My recollection of that time was that there was a great focus on photography at the Gallery. Not only was Laurence there, but Peter Peryer came through, and I was working on Wayne’s show. It was wonderful to meet Laurence and see him make work in his masterful way – and I certainly learned a lot about photographing with a large format camera from his work. This coincided with my own move to working with a large format camera – although I was shooting on colour transparency and making Cibachrome prints – so a different aesthetic.”
What was the building like to work in back then?
“Exhibition wise – brilliant. It’s a fantastic gallery space. My office & studio were in the basement, so not that ideal. But that never really bothered me.”
Did you have a favourite exhibition from your time here at the Sarjeant?
“There were so many shows it’s hard to say. But the two Tylee residency shows – Laurence Aberhart and Andrew Drummond, a dome project by Don Driver and Wayne Barrar’s show come to mind.”
Thank you Neil, as a current staff member it is interesting to see how much, and how little, has changed in the last 30 years.