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Tributes for ‘master’ of the lens

Tributes are pouring in for Ron Redfern, a photographer with a strong connection to Wairarapa who left behind an 80-year-long legacy when he died on May 28 at the age of 92.

He is recognised as one of New Zealand’s “greats” for his award-winning images and pioneering work in the commercial film and digital fields, with the New Zealand Journal of Photography noting the “strong elements of pictorialism, a strong sense of composition, and mastery over black and white” in his work.

Born and raised in Lower Hutt, Ron first picked up a Kodak Box Brownie camera at age 14 and developed his skills on a Leica with two 500-watt floodlights at Elite Studios one year later.

“I would stand in the street and take photos of people as they walked towards me,” he recalled of this time.

“I’d give them my card, and they’d come into the studio and buy the photo.”

His daughter Darlya Redfern said that in his 20s, Ron became a member of the Wellington Camera Club, where he learned about composition and which he credited for enabling his passion for and success in landscape photography.

In the early 1950s, he worked as chief photographer at the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research [DSIR], where, after three weeks, he was commissioned to film a colour movie at White Island.

Four years later, Redfern left DSIR and worked as a studio manager at Gorden H Burt’s studio, which had been established in the 1920s.

He was the first in Wellington to process colour negatives and print in colour.

After opening Redfern Studios on Lampton Quay in the 1960s, his assignments included capturing the All Blacks, the British High Commission, and the New Zealand Airways Commission, and taking award-winning photos for Resene paint that are still used today.
“Ron enjoyed a wide and varied customer base, often travelling on assignments around New Zealand and the Pacific, capturing some pivotal moments in history,” Darlya Redfern said.

“He had amazing stories and photographed all sorts of New Zealand sports stars, including Sir Richard Hadley and Grant Fox.

“He was even asked by invitation to capture Prince Charles when he came to New Zealand in 1994.”

He also led Spectrum Studios, a collaboration with top photographers Ans Westra, Peter Bush, Brian Brake, and Ronald Woolf.

He continued his career into his 80s, tutoring at Wellington Polytechnic and serving as president for the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography, organising numerous competitions and exhibitions.

Finally, he moved to Masterton in 2009, where he finished his working life and was commissioned by Property Brokers to photograph real estate.

“In Wairarapa he would see a photograph, write down the time and come back when the lighting conditions were perfect,” Darlya said.

“He earned the accolade as a ‘Master of Photography’, and he didn’t do things by halves.

“In many areas of photography, Ron was a pioneer – he would often take the road less travelled.

“I hope his legacy will be enjoyed by future generations of photographers, but I believe his enduring legacy is yet to come.”

Photographer Martin Stewart – a mentee and friend of Ron – remembered being “absolutely blown away” on a college photography club visit to Redfern Studios.

“There were beautiful, low light, misty landscapes, stunning commercial images from the oil industry, and some trendy photos of fashion models,” Stewart said.

“I was so inspired I went back to Redfern Studios and asked ‘Mr Redfern’ if I could work after school for him.

“He agreed, and that was life-changing.
“His inspiration and tuition have changed my life, and I have had a successful 45-year career in photography, thanks to him in no small part.”

Professional photographer Nick Servian, who knew Ron for 47 years, recalled him as an excellent photographer and businessman.

“I remember he was very welcoming,” Servian said, and when – in 1979 – his photography business KE Niven Ltd [with partners Michael Overend, Barry Way] merged with Redfern’s to form Wellington-based photography and art studio called Spectrum, “we grew to become the biggest photography and art studio, and our prowess became known all over the country”.

Photographer Simon Woolf said that although Redfern was fairly known outside of the industry, his photography and campaigns were instantly recognisable to those who worked in the field.
“Ron was a full package person and a wonderful person in so many ways,” he said.
“Our craft and industry are mourning his loss big time.”

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