Jocelyn Carlin | photographer & aunt

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My aunty was a photographer. We’ve had to say goodbye to her this week so I’m republishing this years-old story, just because…

The photo (above) is of Jocelyn with two of her photographs which were hanging at Millers Coffee on Cross Street as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography some years ago. I took the photo. I remember being quite stressed about the process because Jocelyn was quizzing me about my camera settings and I was sure my answers were disappointing. The diptych was taken on a snowy December day in 2006 on the Central Volcanic Plateau after an unseasonable weather event. An important part of Jocelyn’s work was documenting climate change stories in New Zealand and the Pacific.

Jocelyn exhibited a photograph or two at Miller’s every year during the Photography Festival, but this particular year is significant in hindsight because it was one of the last times she could drive to meet me for a coffee, or a movie, or a beer.

When I was little, Jocelyn once made me run up and down the jetty at our bach again and again so she could get the perfect shot. It wasn’t for any particular reason, but she had a vision in her head and she needed to be sure it was reflected on film when she developed it. Years later that image appeared on a page of the Waikato Times in an election advertisement. I was eleven and wearing a purple bikini with speedo written across the chest in lime green. I was obviously delighted to find that photo on public display.

One day in the early noughties, I was on an Air New Zealand flight with my sister and Mum, returning home from our other home (Melbourne), when we opened the Air Points magazine to find a photograph of the three of us sitting on a beach. That was unexpected. It had been taken during a particularly awkward hair moment for me. I had a very short grey-brown cut with two blond streaks, one on either side of my fringe (like horns). The magazine was sent to every Air Points member in the country. My friends did not let me forget it.

For the sake of Jocelyn and the incessant clicking of her camera I have eaten endless bowls of cornflakes; I’ve leapt over streams wearing giant Barkers hoodies; I’ve sat on the floor of her cyclorama reading Puffin books for hours on end; and I’ve huddled beside her breathing dark room fumes, watching her Len Lye-inspired photograms appear before my eyes like magic.

I can’t remember a significant family occasion at which Jocelyn wasn’t present with her camera in hand. In a sense, she documented my entire life up until about four years ago, but I never really stopped to wonder why until I bought a camera for gather & hunt purposes in 2012 and needed to learn how to use it.

Jocelyn learned about photography in the days of film. For her, it was both a science and an art, but also an approach to life. Years ago I remember taking a quick snapshot on my little digital camera of the surf life saving tower at Mount Maunganui. Jocelyn appeared beside me and said, “did you think about that photo before you took it? About the frame and the light and the best way to capture it? Maybe you should go over there and walk around the building – that way you’ll understand it better.”

Imagine approaching every moment as if it were a project – a thing that could be so deeply understood that it would become the truest version of itself. That’s what Jocelyn did with her camera, she offered a new way of seeing things: a window into other lives and worlds.

For me, as her niece, I’ll always remember Jocelyn as a dynamic, opinionated, force-to-be-reckoned-with (her siblings are all much the same!) But if you met her in the last five years of her life you would have seen something else: a smaller, less sure woman who used a walking stick for balance and sometimes slurred her words when she was speaking. When movement became impossible, she was confined to a bed. When talking got too tough, she communicated with laughter and tears and raised eyebrows that sometimes meant yes and sometimes no.

The reason you would have been presented with this vision is because Jocelyn had a degenerative illness known as multi-system atrophy. MSA slowly took away her ability to walk properly, talk properly, write properly, read properly, and more generally, to live properly. It also took away her ability to photograph.

It didn’t affect how she thought or saw things, but it did take away her means to tell me those thoughts and show me those things. She never complained.

In December 2006, Jocelyn trudged across the snowy Central Plateau in order to capture the beauty and transience of that particular moment. When I look at the snow pictures now I see that beautiful landscape, yes, and I also see Jocelyn walking unsupported across it, with her camera and her vision and her determination to combine the two.

That’s a beautiful moment, and thanks to her skill with a camera I’ll have it forever. She was a remarkable lady who led a colourful life, and she fought for it to the very end with humour, courage and style. I miss her already, of course, but really I just feel grateful that she was here at all.

If you’d like to see some more beautiful moments captured by Jocelyn, I’d recommend reading her blog, or getting your hands on the book she made from that blog, Every Picture Tells a Story.