Capturing the old city spirit

Wellington-based art photographer Adrienne Martyn alongside some of her images of doorways at the former Cambridge Place Arcade which features in her Arcade exhibition at SIT Raw Gallery.

IN various states of emptiness, desolation and vacancy, art photographer Adrienne Martyn captured the essence of the former Cambridge Pl Arcade, resulting in the photographic exhibition Arcade at the SIT Raw Gallery.

Part of this year’s Southland Heritage Month, Arcade gives a glimpse into the grand, old arcade just before it was demolished to make way for the inner-city development bordered by Tay, Esk, Dee and Kelvin Sts.

Fifteen photographs of various architectural facades make up the exhibition at the Don St gallery, until Friday, March 18.

Martyn said she had been inspired to capture the abandoned images before the buildings were demolished.

“It was self-generated because I loved the arcade.”

Although she now lived in Wellington, Martyn was brought up in Invercargill and had a strong affection for the city.

The opportunity to capture a slice of time and heritage was limited, so she commuted many times from Wellington, drawn by the architecture and looming destruction of many of the heritage buildings.

“While I was here in 2019, I thought long and hard about the Cambridge Place Arcade.”

It galvanised her to make a few inquiries and phone calls, and hire a special lens which allowed her to capture a wide area at a short distance.

Again, it took more trips from Wellington, visiting and revisiting the arcade and its various former shops, striking wrought iron decorative gates at the Tay St and Esk St ends and capturing a lot of its art deco history.

Although Invercargill’s first arcade was built in 1863 and named Lowther Arcade, it was extended from Tay to Esk Sts in 1905, and renamed Royal Arcade. After a fire, it was rebuilt in the art deco style in 1934 and named Cambridge Place Arcade.

The result was creating a large body of work… a lot of architectural studies, facades.

“I photographed the shop fronts of the arcade during 2019, photographing their various states of vacancy and emptiness.

The exhibition “comprises 15 images each titled with their original shop number”.

The entire internal structure of the arcade, excluding the Esk St facade, was demolished in 2020.

Martyn had previously photographed the transitional phase of Anderson House, the former home of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery (IPAG), which has been closed to the public since 2014, and the art collection removed due to earthquake risk concerns, and Bluff’s Club Hotel, in collaboration with Bluff poet Cilla McQueen.

The resulting exhibitions Shift (Anderson Park Art Gallery/Anderson House) was held at the IPAG, Don St, in 2018, and Gossamer (Bluff’s Club Hotel) at Miharo Invercargill last year.

Martyn also took photographs in the former Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG) while it was being decommissioned.

Six images from SMAG, including three of the Victorian diorama, and six from Anderson House were on display at He Waka Tuia Art + Museum in Crate Expectations.

Another future project, close to many Southlanders’ hearts was The Southland Times building on Esk St.

Only its facade remains.

Martyn, who worked in the former building more than 40 years ago, took the opportunity to photograph its interior before it all disappeared.

“When I was down to photograph Anderson House late in 2017, friends and I were talking about all the [destruction of the] heritage buildings.

“I spoke with [retired architect and heritage advocate] Mick Hesselin and got the keys to The Southland Times building.”

As a result, Martyn also had the opportunity to look through the deserted site of the three-storey building to capture some of its former glory and its ghosts.

“I did a quick survey, took shots on my phone before returning a number of times to Invercargill to take photographs of the Times.”

She hoped The Southland Times exhibition would be held next year, on the 160th anniversary of the newspaper.