Country of Origin: Netherlands
Ans Westra was born in Leiden, Holland, in 1936. She came to New Zealand in 1957 after graduating from the Industrieschool voor Meisjes with a Diploma in Arts and Craft Teaching.
Westra is best known as a documentary photographer, like many of her generation, heavily influenced by the international touring exhibition ‘The Family of Man’ (1955 – 1962). A year after arriving in New Zealand she found work in various Wellington photographic studios. In a few short years she was to commence on her life-long photographic journey documenting the lives and cultures of New Zealanders during a period of cultural, social and generational change.
By 1962 Westra was working as a fulltime freelance photographer, working mainly for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education and ‘Te Ao Hou’, a Māori magazine published by the Department of Internal Affairs. This work involved extensive travel throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific.
Controversy followed the 1964 publication of the school journal ‘Washday At The Pa’. following protest action by the Māori Women's Welfare League the book was withdrawn from primary school classrooms by the Department of Education. However the Christchurch publisher Caxton Press printed a new version of the book shortly after. The controversy has ensured Westra’s work sits directly at the centre of debates around Pakeha representation of Māori.
Westra has continued to work and travel extensively, and exhibit widely. While pursuing her documentary work, more recently she has started photographing the landscape. These recent images use colour to express her concern for New Zealand's destiny, “an island exploited by various waves of settlement”.
Her work is held in many public collections throughout New Zealand. She has received several Arts grants and Arts residencies, and has published numerous books including ‘Maori’ (1967), ‘Notes On The Country I Live In’ (1972), and the survey publication ‘Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs’ (2004).
Westra was awarded the Companion of the Order of New Zealand Merit (CNZM) for services to photography in 1998, and she received an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2007.
Ans Westra lives in Wellington.