Keeping New Zealand in Focus

  • Lockwood Smith
International Trade

Illot Concert Chamber
Town Hall

With this convention and Fotofest '98, it's photography week here in Wellington. Never before have we had so many of the world's photography legends in one city in New Zealand at one time. And, with the exception of my Rodney electorate of course, there are few better venues in New Zealand for a photography event such as Fotofest '98. The week already looks as if it will be a great success.

Ill-informed people might think it more appropriate for you to have asked the Minister of Cultural Affairs to address your convention, rather than the Trade Minister. They'd be wrong. It's good to see the photography industry firmly focussed on your role in our export effort. And I'm pleased to address the convention of a small but important export industry in your own right.

I hate to use such an obvious clich é as "one picture is worth ten thousand words". But the reason it has become a cliché is because it is so true. As Trade Minister, I can tell you that the image of our country that your work presents overseas is perhaps the greatest single asset to our exporting effort. It is certainly worth more than the 10,000 words diplomats may use in half a meeting.

Only a generation ago, in 1960, New Zealand's exports were almost totally dominated by meat, wool and dairy products - mainly to the UK. We sold mainly frozen carcasses, big bales of wool and big blocks of butter. It was an added bonus if we were perceived as clean and green, but generally marketing wasn't seen as an important issue. Why should it be, when the UK would take whatever we could send them?

For a variety of reasons, that changed during the 1970s, particularly after Britain joined the EEC. We had to seek new markets where New Zealand wasn't as well known. Even in our traditional markets, the need for us to gain higher returns required us to begin thinking about marketing and positioning New Zealand internationally, particularly by building on our clean, green image.

Photography has played a vital role. Speaking personally, there are two images in particular that stand out for me. I see them all around the world. The first is the image of the Milford Sound and Mitre Peak, which presents our country as clean. Then there is the standard photograph of the Canterbury Plains, which presents us as green. I can't tell you how often I have seen those images overseas, and how they have influenced the perceptions of New Zealand held by importers of our goods.

That clean, green image continues to be central to the marketing efforts of our most important export industry, agriculture. Our key agricultural exporters rely on your work. A big chunk of the value they extract from the international marketplace comes from the image of New Zealand that you present.

But New Zealand's export effort has also had to diversify since the days of meat, wool and dairy products to the UK. It has done so successfully. The forestry industry, for example, is already our third biggest export earner and set the challenge dairy for the number one slot. The images of our vast plantation forests has sent a message that we can guarantee supply of a quality product. Photographs of deer roaming free in the Southern Alps have helped the development of our venison and velvet industry.

But, more and more, New Zealand is winning internationally, exporting high-tech products. That means our image needs to be modified for the 21st Century. The photography industry's role will again be of the most profound importance. While we must maintain our clean, green image, we must build upon it. An image of technological superiority and design excellence is becoming ever more important. That image needs to come through whenever New Zealand exporters set up trade stands or overseas offices, or commission a brochure, catalogue, web site or CD Rom. Our export industries again rely on our photography industry.

And one of those export industries is the photography industry itself. We don't know the full extent of New Zealand's photography exports. As I said, part of the value we extract for all our exports comes from the image of New Zealand we present through photography. And many products contain photographic images - if only on the packaging - which add to their value. The official trade statistics don't take into account these contributions. In fact, the industry is largely unrecognised when it comes to official trade statistics, because so much of your work is an integral part of other products. But we do know photographic images have been a successful export earner in their own right.

This convention marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Brian Blake, one of New Zealand's most famous international photographers who was still working in London, New York and Paris at 60. Today, Anne Geddes is probably the best known photography exporter. Ninety percent of her output is sold off-shore. Michael Pole and Craig Potton are two other well known exporters of photographic images. Our export earning from products for which most of the value is often photography are also worth having. We earn around $2 million from exporting calenders. Exports of printed pictures, design and photographs are worth around $500,000.

Exports are bound to grow. The growth of the middle class will turn economies like China into huge consumer-orientated societies, with higher disposable incomes. More and more the emerging middle class will start to buy discretionary goods like magazines, coffee table books and art. Increasing competition in marketing and promotions and the explosive growth of the Internet will inevitably increase demand for your work.

Your industry is well placed to continue to take advantage of all these avenues of growth. And at the same time, there is an increasing amount of money to be made in industries supporting photography. New Zealand's attraction to top international photographers provides opportunities for equipment and rental companies, location catering, laboratories, modeling and all the other support infrastructure, including transport and accommodation.

The industry has a great future, and more and more of our young people know it. But it is becoming increasingly specialised and advanced, as new technologies like digital photography improve performance in every way. Over 5,500 secondary students are now studying photography, and 8% of 7th formers. The number of students taking photography for Bursary has increased to over 2,000 last year - over 250 more than in 1996. Photography will be an integral part of the new Arts curriculum for schools which is currently being developed. Both the universities of Auckland and Canterbury, along with several polytechnics, offer photography modules or courses through to degree level. And in 1993, I was pleased as Minister of Education to provide the first ever Government funding to the Christchurch-based private training establishment, Photo Access. I'm pleased funding has continued under Wyatt Creech.

This week's focus on the photography industry here in Wellington can only help to encourage more young people to see photography as a potential career, through which to assist New Zealand's export industry. And I'm pleased to have been able to publicly recognise the work you do in keeping New Zealand in focus internationally. Our entire export sector looks forward to working with you as we continue to build New Zealand's image internationally.