Photographs after the Canterbury EarthquakesFebruary 25th, 2013 By John Sullivan
Immediately after the Canterbury Earthquake of 4 September 2010, the National Library engaged photographer Ross Becker to take photographs of the structural and geological impact of the event.
We were keenly aware of the need for this. Our photographic record of the damage caused by the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake has been used over the years by geologists and engineers, as well as by historians, and the knowledge gained has fed into improved engineering, architectural and planning practice.
The catastrophic earthquake of 22 February 2011 made the need to record the built environment of Christchurch even more urgent. The city continued to experience aftershocks of varying magnitude, and the large number of unsafe structures left standing posed a significant hazard. The pressure to demolish these as quickly as possible made it likely that large areas of Christchurch would be substantially cleared before the people of the city were permitted to return. We wanted the process of deconstruction to be documented at regular intervals, in order to ensure that there was a photographic record.
Since September 2010, 8400 digital photographs have been deposited with the Library as part of this project. They are at present receiving the attention of our Curatorial, Arrangement & Description, and Digital Collection Strategy teams, so that they will continue to be available for researchers into the future.
4303 images are already processed and available for use. They show the devastation wrought in Christchurch and Lyttleton by both earthquakes. A wide range of buildings; public, commercial, church and residential, is covered. Ross Becker was provided with copies of historical photographs of Christchurch from the Alexander Turnbull Library collections, and he has been able to duplicate the viewpoints of some of those earlier images, thereby providing a unique longitudinal perspective on the event.
These images are a selection from those currently available to the public via the National Library website. They show the devastation visited on Canterbury’s architectural heritage.
A turn-of–the-century building on Lichfield Street reveals the insubstantial structure that lies beneath the impressive exterior:
Views of the intersection of Colombo and Gloucester streets, taken 100 years apart, demonstrate the radical change in the built environment. In the image taken in March 2012, the shadow of a departed building is revealed on the wall of a surviving structure.
Aerial views of Cathedral Square taken 60 years apart, and the corner of Hereford and High 100 years apart, emphasize the transformation.
The impact on the iconic churches of Christchurch is shown in these views of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and St John the Baptist Anglican Church.
Views on Cashel, Worcester, Tuam, Colombo and High streets demonstrate the impact on large and small businesses, and the seemingly random nature of the destruction. Apparently untouched buildings butt up against totally destroyed structures.
A hastily-contrived wooden brace makes a jarring contrast with the well-kept house it is supporting.
The entrance to the Cranmer Centre is the last surviving vestige of the Christchurch Girls' High School, demolished in May 2011.