Matapihi Railway Bridge – Morning, Noon and Night – The Concept

This work originates from a small seed of an idea, I had to photograph a panoramic view of the Matapihi Bridge from the harbour side. It’s an idea that grew and multiplied each time I visited the bridge, then it turned into a concept of “Morning Noon and Night."

concept presented to the council

A simple idea struck me just from looking at the rails. I’ve seen lots of rails around the North Island, and many of them are rusty and tarnished from lack of use. The rails at this location gleam, as they have no time to rust as they are always in use with freight trains. This is a 24/7 railway line, which inspired “Morning Noon and Night.”

The finished work is a collection of seven canvases locked together with an aluminum and steel structure. It would have been easy to do this work as three straight canvases, but the final result we have not is much more rewarding.

I got as much enjoyment out of puzzling together the mounting structure as I did from taking the images themselves. I believed it had to look like one piece of art in with an irregular shape. It was important to me that each image locked into the next, either by construction or through an overlap with transparent effects.

The core three canvases are set between the rails to give a sense of distance and hold together the images in a lineal journey across the bridge. The art could lie along the floor and work in a literal sense of the set of rails on the ground. I photographed a real section of rails at the Matapihi end of the bridge then stitched it together.

The core three images

Are collectively known as “Morning Noon and Night.” Individually they are called:

Tauranga Taenga Mai (Tauranga Arrival) – Morning
Piriti whakawhitinga (Bridge crossing) -Noon
Matapihi Haerenga (Matapihi departure) – Night

Core image details:

Tauranga Taenga Mai (Arrival)

This was the first image that I shot and it sparked off the idea. It is an eleven image panoramic stitch giving 180˚ view of the sunrise over the harbour. A perfectly calm morning allowed for stunning reflections in glass like water.

I shot around 300 frames to get this panoramic, half of which would be lining up, leveling, eliminating variables, all but one. Sunrise waits for no one, so you have to be ready to go as soon as the light starts changing and clouds start forming.

On the left hand side of the canvas I’ve used a motion blur to simulate speed of entering the view by train. The bridge at this end has a tight bend and it was a last minute decision.

The Matapihi bridge was originally planned to be straight, and the railway would have gone up Elizabeth Street. While shooting this sequence for the panoramic a small grebe popped up and gave me the ripple directly below sunrise, so it was the sequence of choice. What amuses me most is that the bird pops up again 8 frames later, on the far right above the gull.

Piriti whakawhitinga (Bridge crossing)

This canvas takes us up onto the bridge via the footbridge which allowed me to explore the different angles of the bridge structure and the views beyond. I wanted to link the two outer canvases visually by incorporating the image into the edges of the center canvas.

The lead-in image on the left gives a view through the structure over the top of harbour side linking it to the arrival canvas. The lead-out image to the right shows a view towards Matapihi and Maheka points, linking it to the departure canvas.

I couldn’t resist adding a hidden panoramic under the bottom rail. This was shot at dusk on one of my visits and it is a 25 image panoramic visual switch: the words run Tauranga~Matapihi, and the image runs Matapihi~Tauranga.

The center of this canvas is shot straight down the line at near ground level which gives the canvas its main focal point. I like the “infinity effect” of iron sections disappearing down a tunnel.

The bridge is a “Howe Truss” structure which became very popular as a railroad bridge needing to span great distances. Our bridge is 14 sections long which are numbered on the inside plates on the opposite side of the bridge from the walkway, affectionately known by Gunzels (rail enthusiasts) as a "Howie”. The rail bridge was completed in 1924 after a delay for WW1 caused a reduction in man power to complete the structure.

Matapihi Haerenga (departure)

The final canvas that gives closure to the journey is night/dusk. The day’s departing. For this I looked at creating more momentum in the image. The base image is a 9 image panoramic shot on a King Tide. The water was moving at quite a speed, and combining that with a midrange exposure, I got the opposite of the arrival canvas: more movement and blurred reflections. This gives the sense of gathering speed as a train leaves, departing through Matapihi.

On my original concept I was to produce a technical drawing of the bridge structure to run along the horizon line. While lining up to shoot a section of the bridge as a reference for the drawing, an engine shot through and gave me a very serendipitous image of the structure and motion of the loco speeding towards Matapihi. It was too good not to use. The view point under the bridge is towards Tauranga South.

The Mounting canvases and structure

I thought that it would be fitting to make all the mountings for the structure part of the overall art work. The 4 iron plates are from the opposite side of the bridge so they have no graffiti for obvious reasons. They are numbered 1-14 but a little manipulation allowed me to build in the opening date for TECT Arena, 26/8/2011.

These canvases are locked into place with hurricane straps which I riveted to mimic the bridge structure. Two aluminum rails run the full length of the work, directly behind the behind rail image.


This has been a unique project for me and it has opened the door to explore a more art based approach to my work. I have spent thirty years as a graphic designer, illustrator and now photographer so to be able to combine all these aspects of my career in one work was a true pleasure.

Matapihi Railway Bridge – Morning Noon and Night
by Ken Wright – Lightwave Photography – 2011

Special thanks to jane Coleman and the project team at Tauranga City Council, and thanks to John Beech at Creative Tauranga for putting me forward as an artist. Thanks to Cuyler at Rembrandt Fine arts for superb canvases.