Whenever I hit one of those days when I'm feeling like the world is a fucken tough place, and life ain't fair, I remind myself of the bloke in this photograph.
I made it while shooting a magazine feature for New Zealand Geographic @nzgeo
about the plant known by its scientific name as Phorium tenax, or 'flax', as Europeans called it for short. The Maori term is Harakeke, and it was vital to their early survival in New Zealand. Maori wove it into everything from their clothing to holding their boats and houses together. Baskets, bedding and matts were made from flax, and when Europeans settled in New Zealand, it was briefly the country's largest export commodity, made into rope for sailing ships.
Delph Halidone, then 82 when I made this portrait of him on Kodachrome film, left school at 14 to work in the flax mills around Foxton, a swampy area of the North Island where the plant grew in abundance. That's him as a younger man at work cutting the leaves for harvest in the b&w photo he's holding.
But look closely at his hands, or what's left of them. The day before he was to be called up to serve in World War II, he lost five of his fingers, including a thumb, in a flax stripping machine. An unforgiving piece of equipment that separated the fibres from the leaves. Apparently, Delph told me, this was quite a common industrial accident in those days with many men in Foxton walking around with missing appendages.
So now when I think of the transformation of work in the technological revolution we are experiencing, I'm relieved I wasn't so much a part of the last revolution with its brutal industrialised heavy machinery that often cost people their life and limbs.
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