Greg Semu describes himself as “ambiguous and articulate.” His very accent is worn by years of travel to a vague Pacific lilt. The New Zealand born, Sydney based, Samoan photographer has just returned from the Cook Islands where he began a new series ‘Symbols of Power’. “It’s an umbrella term”, he explains, over a glass of wine in a Redfern bar. “It took a month. Three weeks production, one day shooting, one week debrief.” With twenty four locals, Semu re-enacted Louis John Steele and Charles F Goldie’s The Arrival of the Maori in New Zealand (1898), probably the nation’s best known history painting.
Semu’s reiterations of epic nineteenth century paintings are essentially community arts projects. Filmed on location, they channel funds back to the cultures they describe. The vision is Semu’s, the templates European, but the spirit enlivening the work is of the people—Maori, New Caledonian, Raratongan—and Samoan Semu.
Beginning as a fashion model then switching to the other side of the camera, Semu has a casual sartorial finesse that can’t be learnt. Big boots, baggy jeans and recycled military jacket offset sleeve tattoos whose raised pigment speaks traditional methods. His thick hair is swept back, revealing the sculpted moustache of a European dandy. Self-taught with camera, he is slippery on the subject of himself before it.