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This Beautiful Land

Book Review
Flying High: The Photography of Lloyd Homer
by Simon Nathan. (Published by Geoscience Society of NZ, distributed by David Bateman Ltd, $45.)
Reviewed by Bob Brockie

front-cover_sFor 35 years, Lloyd Homer took over 100,000 photos for the New Zealand Geological Survey (now known as GNS), his cameras taking him to many of the most spectacular and remote corners of New Zealand. Author of this book, Simon Nathan, admits that with such a vast collection of photos to choose from, he was challenged to select the best 150 to publish here.

Lloyd specialised in aerial photography of geological features from a plane — a hazardous undertaking in earlier days as it involved photographing sideways through the open doors of Cessna planes often flying at steep angles.

Lloyd Homer in action, taking photos out of the open door of a Cessna. Photo: Alan Knowles

Lloyd Homer in action, taking photos out of the open door of a Cessna. Photo: Alan Knowles

He later used special cameras and gear for photographing directly downwards with GPS accuracy.  In the course of his work, Lloyd was lucky to survive several plane crashes.

So, we have a book full of our splendid mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, eruptions, landslides, fiords, rivers, coasts, headlands, and islands. Among them are iconic panoramas of Banks and Mahia peninsulas, lakes Wanaka and Waikareiti, and the drowned landscape of Marlborough Sounds.  Having seen Lloyd’s photos of these places, you’ll never see them again with the same eyes.

Earthquakes also caught Lloyd’s attention, to give us sobering shots of the effects of the Inangahua and Edgecumbe quakes, crooked railway lines and all.  Aerial photographs are very useful in detecting earthquake fault lines. These splits in the earth surface are often difficult to trace on the ground but can become more apparent from the air. Lloyd’s photos were useful in helping geologists map many of these features.

Apart from natural features, Lloyd records the impact of humanity on our country. He has photos of gold dredging and coal mining in Westland, the smelting and steel mill at Glenbrook, the oil refinery at Marsden Point, the Benmore Dam, road-building at Arthurs Pass, bloody effluent discharging into the sea from a Canterbury freezing works, and the remarkable pattern of seven intersecting roads at ‘Clapham Junction’ in the flat centre of Canterbury. There are also photos of geologists at work in the field, in Antarctica, and in their labs.

The zig-zag section of SH73 between Arthur’s Pass and Otira, where the road passed over unstable landslides, taken in 1996. A viaduct now avoids this hazardous section of the highway.

The zig-zag section of SH73 between Arthur’s Pass and Otira, where the road passed over unstable landslides, taken in 1996. A viaduct now avoids this hazardous section of the highway.

In the early 1990s, Hong Kong’s Civil Engineering Department commissioned Lloyd to photograph the colony’s geology from the air. Some of these landscape photos featured on Hong Kong postage stamps.  Another two of his photos appeared on New Zealand postage stamps in 1992. Over the years, Lloyd co-authored three illuminating illustrated guidebooks on the geology of the Wairarapa, the mining history of Coromandel, and Auckland’s volcanoes. He has also worked on heritage buildings in Wellington and Lower Hutt, taking over 587 street views. These will doubtless be of great historical interest.

In making Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson famously and cleverly set action against many of our country’s dramatic landscapes and geomorphology. Directors of the upcoming Lord of the Rings and Avatar TV series would do well to skim through Lloyd’s photos. They’ll find all the dramatic background they need – the volcanoes, geysers, alps, fiords, caves, vast shingle slides, braided riverbeds, wind- and water-sculptured rocks, cliffs, coasts, and headlands, sinister gorges, and serene lakes.

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For such a small country, Middle Earth New Zealand is endowed with a great diversity of dynamic, colourful, emblematic landscapes and geological features.  Lloyd Homer has done us a great service in bringing  these natural spectacles  to public attention.