Chris Thompson provides an outlet for outdoor photographers to showcase their work.
Driving past Lake Tekapo in pouring rain on a frigid winter day, Chris Thompson pulled over to snap a photo he didn’t expect would amount to much.
It was afternoon, spur of the moment. The light was flat and grey. The conventional principles of good photography were absent.
But there was something about the scene that made him open his window and take the photo.
And it paid off.
‘Lake Tekapo through the Driving Rain’ is now one of the most popular wall pieces sold at the Picture Lounge, a gallery in Wanaka owned and operated by Thompson that promotes and sells the work of New Zealand’s luminary landscape photographers.
“There are no visible mountains, no clouds, nothing, just a barely discernible division between land and sky,” Thompson says about the photo. “But what works is the subtlety of it; it really draws you in and has this peaceful, misty, painterly quality to it.”
It is a concern for subtlety, moodiness and a painterly expression that defines Thompson’s photography, though he also does more traditional landscape photography.
“Lately I’ve really been enjoying exploring the minimal; looking for the incredible subtlety that exists in nature,” Thompson says.
Originally from Auckland, Thompson, a graphic designer by trade and a photographer by passion, moved to Wanaka in 2011 after Central Otago’s outdoors cast a spell on him during trips in the region.
As a kid he enjoyed the outdoors at the family bach near Lake Taupo and Wanaka’s mountains, rivers and lakes revived those nostalgic memories.
However, a life taking photos in the mountains wasn’t always a sure thing. He was nearly stolen by Auckland’s notorious advertising industry.
After graduating from AUT University he set up a graphic design studio in 2000 which soon became recognised as a high-end, creative design practice, producing work for well-known international brands and New Zealand companies.
But after visiting Wanaka a few times Thompson started feeling more at home among the mountains than in the city.
“With that realisation I made the goal to move my life here, so in early 2011 I finally did,” he says.
Thompson first picked up a camera in 2005 to produce product photography for clients.
The camera accompanied him on his backcountry tramping and kayaking trips and he gradually developed a passion for landscape photography, which is now an integral part of his life.
Two of his favourite places for photography are the summit of Mt Alfred in Glenorchy and the country around Meg Hut in the Pisa Range.
He opened a gallery after travelling through Asia and Eastern Europe in 2008 and 2009 and finding many such galleries, but on return to New Zealand finding few.
“I also knew from experience many photographers had struggled to get their work into fine art galleries, because many of the galleries sadly wouldn’t recognise photography as fine art,” he says. “Many of our finest photographers simply didn’t have a retail outlet for their work so I felt this would potentially be beneficial to all.”
He discussed his idea to open a photography gallery with New Zealand’s leading photographers, including Craig Potton who Thompson has always admired and says was helpful and supportive.
Just 18 months later the gallery is such a success that expansion is in mind.
The Picture Lounge carries the work of Craig Potton, Gilbert van Reenen, Mike Langford, Jackie Ranken, Paul Gummer, Chris McLennan, Adam Buckle, Helmut Hirler, Richard Sidey, Camilla Stoddart and Aliscia Young.
As well as running the gallery, Thompson also continues to work as a graphic designer.
“I’ve always been envious of those who might camp in the same spot for a week to get ‘the’ shot,” he says. “Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of that sort of time so I always just try to get the best I can from whatever time and light that is available.
“There will always be potentially great moments anywhere, at any time of the day or night, and in whatever light conditions.
“I think it’s this approach that I find personally more beneficial, just being ‘out there – anywhere’ gives you the potential to see things worth capturing, rather than being too precious about having the perfect light or conditions.”
And his photo of Lake Tekapo in the rain is all the proof that’s needed.