Art Deco Weekend Napier

Art Deco, Napier, New Zealand

Street Photography (New Zealand Style)

Art Deco Weekend. If you don't live in New Zealand, this might not ring any bells. If you do, the chances are that you know it.

In 1931, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in Hawke's Bay, killing 256 people. The town of Napier was mostly destroyed, first by the earthquake and then by the fires that swept through it afterwards. For comparison, the 2011 earthquake that hit Christchurch was magnitude 6.3, killing 185 people.

The coastal areas around Napier rose by about two meters, and forty square kilometres of seabed became land. There is an interesting book, mainly comprising old photographs, called 'Port to Port: A Pictorial History of Port Ahuriri'. I came across in the hotel we were staying in and it shows how much of what is now Napier was underwater before the earthquake. Sadly, I can't find another copy anywhere.

The citizens of Napier set to work and rebuilt Napier over two or three years, setting up shop - much as containers have latterly been used after the Christchurch earthquake - in big corrugated iron sheds on the hill: The containers housing the re:START shopping area in Christchurch post-earthquake are the lineal descendants of this disaster.

I have no idea whether it was a conscious decision or simply a function of rebuilding the town in such a short time, but the 'new' Napier was built in Deco style and much remains.

So we now have a small city built in a style that has disappeared almost everywhere else. And they have a weekend celebrating everything Deco that is enthusiastically celebrated. People come from all over the world. All sorts of stuff happens.

Perhaps the neatest thing is that many people who attend dress up in period costumes. It makes the whole experience unique. There are hundreds of old cars to see and a steam train from Wellington to attend the weekend. It is organised by the Art Deco Trust, and it is clearly a labour of love for many who live in Napier. There are ‘Art Deco Ambassadors’ in case you need help or inspiration. It’s well worth a visit.

New Zealand continues to surprise and delight me. Having attended the art deco weekend I subsequently went to the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand meeting in Wanganui, expecting to see a few old cars. Instead, there was an astonishing show with seven hundred veteran cars attending, some incredibly rare. Yes, that was seven hundred!! Remember, New Zealand is a country with a population of only 4½ million, situated in the South Pacific.

The Deco weekend is much the same. I expected a nice weekend with a few people in costumes but instead got a whole community with tons of stuff going on left, right and centre.

I have posted a gallery of images. You can imagine that I was in my element and at times didn't know which way to look. Interestingly, I seemed to have gravitated to my comfort zone (or perhaps where my skill-set sits best). Although there is lots of architecture to capture, I feel my best images were of people. Let me know what you think.

The Vanities of Man – the Ruins of Moreton Corbet Hall

Moreton Corbett Hall Shrewsbury UK

The Vanities of Man - the ruins of Morten Corbett Hall

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley's sonnet is a wonderful thing, gently mocking man’s vanity and the relative impermanence of our achievements. I think we feel safely insulated from the message by virtue of the language and the fact that it is set in a far distant (and imaginary) past. In Shropshire, however, I came across a more contemporary example.

The Corbets are wealthy landowners. They have a long and noble history. The Doomsday book lists Roger Fitz Corbet and his brother Robert as tenants of the King and of Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury. The line died out (as they say) but quaintly termed 'cadet' branches spread and thrived. In 1873, according to Wikipedia, the Corbets still retained a part of their former vast states in Shropshire and in 1873 two Corbets owned more than 17,000 acres between them. When I first arrived in Shropshire, I played squash was one of the Corbets. As we were changing after the game (he won) I asked if he was from around Shropshire. It was only later that I realised why he was so bit sniffy! We never played again, despite the fact that I can trace my family back a bit too.


Moreton Corbet Hall lies just north of Shrewsbury. It's history dates from perhaps the 9th century. In the sixteen century Andrew Corbet made many changes to the existing castle and his son, influenced by his time abroad as a diplomat, set about creating a new mansion. Unfortunately, the plague did for him, but successive Corbets persevered. The house was besieged during the English Civil War as it was part of Royalist Shrewsbury's defence.


Now, it's a shell.

I spent a happy afternoon photographing the site, having driven past it many times. It has a peculiar atmosphere of isolation but not decay. It almost looks like someone just lost interest in maintaining it. The feeling that you in a time warp is palpable. I walked around and took lots of photos but the images, taken on a lovely summers day, do not seem to convey my vision of the place. I would love to go back.
I have played around with the images to try and convey the sense of agelessness.