by Helen Martin
In the four and a half years since Ian Baker and his partner Camelia Petrus moved to the outskirts of Helensville to escape city apartment living they’ve made good progress with their garden, producing vegetables for the table and fruit for pickling and bottling and for vinegar, wine and liqueur making. They’re enjoying it here. “The place still has the friendly and helpful attitude common in small towns,” says Ian, “and I enjoy the Facebook page where locals talk about what’s going on in the community.” In return, Helensville is benefiting from Ian’s passion for petanque – as a member of the New Zealand team he has travelled the world competing at top level since 1998–as he progresses his plan to establish a petanque club at the local bowling club, beginning with arranging for the New Zealand squad to train there.
Born in the small English village of Oakington, Ian and his family immigrated to New Zealand when he was ten. Living in beautiful Huia provided Ian with a golden childhood and a love of the natural world that has stayed with him. Taking charge of his mother’s Kodak Retinette, which he still owns, was Ian’s first step into the world of photography; his next was to buy a Nikon F1 in his last year at Avondale College. Initially his slides went to Australia to be developed. At Auckland University studying Geology he joined the camera club and, while the club’s developing room was an old tin shed that let in daylight, when Ian first saw the black and white image of a photo emerge from the developing solution he had an epiphany. This was it! With his degree not quite completed, Ian left university and eventually found his way into what was a relatively closed shop by becoming a New Zealand Woman’s Weekly photographer. Given that he had no formal training jobs that included food shots for Tui Flower’s test kitchen were a challenge, but Ian avidly soaked up photography knowledge and was able to move on to the Auckland Star, where he enjoyed the opportunity to produce sharp black and white images for the daily paper.
New Zealand’s pavilion at Osaka in Japan’s 1970 Expo gave Ian the overseas opportunity he’d been looking for and for six months he was kept busy taking shots of exhibition-related events, both for the NZ government and for other trade missions. Striking up a friendship with the San Francisco rock band Arizona Ian, ready for more adventure, jumped at the invitation to accompany them back to America. There he met an entrepreneur in the process of setting up the travelling multi-media concert ‘The Beatles: a way with words’ - all he needed was someone to select and coordinate the images to be screened on slide projectors. In this role, for over a year Ian had a great time travelling America, with the show playing mostly in small towns but also doing Hollywood, before Beatles’ manager Allen Kleintwigged to what was happening and put an end to the tour with threats of a $4 million law suit.
Armed with a new Hassleblad (digital) camera Ian went to London, worked in a dark room and explored Europe. On his return to NZ he began a career shooting portraits, a job which included an unscheduled visit to Rob Muldoon to take photos for the artist designing a money-box modelled on the Prime Minister, giving Ian the dubious distinction of being the only photographer with close-ups in his collection of the back of Muldoon’s head.
The first book Ian shot the stills for was Tim Jones’s ‘It Was a Hard-Won Freedom, alternative communities in New Zealand’. His interest in food and wine photography was renewed working on the Foodtown magazine and the cook book ‘Easy Asia’ and he jumped at the chance to create the books for Chanel Publishers that became a long-term gig. Shooting a calendar for the Martinborough Food and Wine Festival gave Ian the idea of doing books that showcased food and wines related to specific regions and lead to production of ‘Simply New Zealand’ and ‘Simply Australia’. The next initiative was to include art. Pre-internet, it was Ian’s job to find interesting restaurants around the country and showcase their food, along with the work of the region’s artists. The first of a series of three, the beautiful ‘New Zealand Food, Wine and Art’ was the first book of its kind in this country, becoming a Whitcoulls best seller and Montana book awards finalist. The same format was then used for an Australian series.
Having spent his working life as a stills photographer and working on around 30 books, Ian is also interested in the moving image and has been making promotional DVDs. He’d like to showcase the work of New Zealand artists and has so far filmed Helensville artist Jeff Thomson. He has a huge library of photos taken over many years and is in the early stages of putting together a collection in the form of a memoir, something that will no doubt be of great interest to his grandchildren as well as to the reading public.