“Puaki — to come forth, show itself, open out, emerge, reveal, to give testimony.” Michael Bradley’s new project does all these things and more.
Filled with traditional wet plate photographs and video interviews of tattooed Maori people, Puaki offers a view like no other. It’s both cultural and artistic in approach as it traces the history of tattooing as part of traditional Maori culture and how it nearly disappeared in the history books.
When Europeans first set foot on Maori soil, they brought with them their curiosity and fascination about the local culture. In addition to that, they took photographs of the early Maori people with the available method at the time — wet plate collodion photography. The problem with that approach was that the ornate and beautiful tattoos of the people were lost in the wet plate photos. Darker ink would not register on the images and some of the photos that did show facial tattoos were either drawn in after the photograph was taken.
The facial tattoos are called tā moko and they are an important part of Maori culture. It signified honor and stature in society and individuals who have them are perceived to be of greater status. Tā moko is a symbol of pride — the men and women who carry them pay tribute to their ancestors and indigenous culture. They keep the tradition alive and that is no small feat in today's modern world.
This sparked an interest in photographer Michael Bradley. He noticed this phenomenon and used it to present his newest project and show the proud heritage of the Maori people. Using both digital and traditional photographic processes, Bradley showed a side-by-side comparison. The juxtaposed photos both revealing and hiding the intricate designs offer an interesting look into the history of the Maori people.
Puaki is on display at the Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. It will run until September 2, 2018 and features video interviews with the 23 participants. Michael Bradley is a photojournalist based in New Zealand. He studied wet plate collodion photography and enjoys the traditional process as much as the images he gets from it.
We would like to thank Michael for granting us permission to use his images for this article. If you're interested in his various photographic work, you may head over to his website for more.