On the Ground in Quake City

By October 5, 2013Blog, Photo Essay

Christchurch Earthquake

On the 22nd February 2011, at 12.51pm local time Christchurch was hit by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. Centred some 10km’s to the south east of the city and at a depth of 5km’s the quake was to prove devastating, 185 lives were lost and there was widespread damage to both buildings and infrastructure throughout the city. Some 2 1/2 years later, in transit, I made my first ever visit to the city and spent a day wandering the streets.

A City in Ruins?

Radio adverts, “tradesmen wanted” play constantly across the airwaves, progress has been made here but there is much more to do, what’s a realistic timescale for the completion of this city? The truth is, nobody can say with any real certainty, surely the sooner the better. Speak to anyone and they are either still awaiting an insurance payout or know somebody who is, tales of delaying tactics and low offers from insurers, red tape and government incompetence will most likely be the long term legacy of this event. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but this is almost certainly the case here, think you’re home and property are insured? think again……

These were the real negatives, I mention them here, not in a political sense but because you simply can’t visit this place and ignore them. In spite of this, the overriding feeling is one of hope for the future, this is the closest I’ve been to a natural disaster and even so long after the event you can’t help but sense what mankind is capable of when faced with adversity, humbling indeed.


The Odeon Theatre built in 1883 is New Zealand’s oldest masonry theatre, in the world’s youngest country, one with so little architectural heritage it’s absolutely vital this building and others like it are restored to their former glory.


Designated as “No Access” some areas of the Red Zone remain exactly as they were left on the 22nd February 2011, whilst much has been done since I was surprised by how much of this still remained. 


 Only shadows and the reflections of buildings fill the open spaces that were once occupied by bricks and mortar. It serves to reiterate both how much has vanished and how much remains to be done.


A divided image from a divided city? The fate of the Centennial Recreation and Sports Centre remains in the ballance, across national and local government there still appear to be divisions on the best way forward for this city.




I witnessed a steady stream of tourists throughout the day, they all gravitate to the city’s most famous landmark, or whats left of it. Here a chap pauses for a moment of reflection at Christchurch Cathedral, they are it’s new congregation. 


Christchurch Cathedral, damaged beyond repair or just too expensive to be viable? The future of the iconic landmark is certainly a hotly debated topic. For the moment at least it remains behind lock and key.

A different kind of Normal


I’ve spent most of my life in shopping centres, not shopping for cameras I might add. This is certainly the most unusual and definitely the cheapest to construct. 


Another community/recycling project I stumbled upon, you quickly realise that its appearance holds little significance, what really matters is that it exists at all.


This may possibly be the worlds smallest community library!!!! I don’t know what I admire most about this setup, the fact that someone took the time to create this space, the utilising of an old chiller cabinet as a weather sealed bookcase or the fact that its still serving the community many months after its inception. “This fridge has kept me reading for the last 6 months” said the guy in the image as I chatted to him about this most unlikely of local amenities. 



On the face of it, cutting the grass verges in a city that’s largely reduced to rubble may seem preposterous, however you quickly realise it’s anything but. It represents a return to normality and a first step in reclaiming what was lost.


Creativity has not been suppressed by the quake, making the most of what you have is the overriding message, mini golf, anyone??


The onset of spring has added a welcome touch of colour to the city and it affords a stark contrast to the backdrop of abandoned and damaged buildings. I applaud the decision to tend the cities flower beds and gardens, sometimes the small gestures make the biggest difference.

Messages from Quake City

QC16As you’d expect the quake has influenced graffiti and street art alike, I guess it will for many years to come.



Irony is everywhere, if only paint afforded the kind of protection these buildings needed……I’ve made a conscious effort not to do too much processing of the images in this post with the exception of this one. Kodak Portra 400 preset in VSCO FILM 01, I’ve only scratched the surface with this but I’ll post some more images in a few weeks, I have to say I really like it.



QC21Punting on the Avon, no longer an option from this particular landing but its business as usual further along the river.



QC24Did the owner of this tie intend to leave a message or was it a drunken prank, who knows. For me, well maybe its representative of the often faceless bureaucrats and authority that is dictating the future of this city? 

QC25 Despite the destruction on display it is still difficult to imagine the horror of being caught up in this event or even living in the aftermath. Like any good citizen I shared a concern for the wellbeing of its inhabitants but I had no real affinity for the city itself. Now, having spent only a day there that affinity is strong, Christchurch and more importantly the people who call this home deserve a city to be proud of. As surely as the city must embrace change and modernisation it’s equally imperative that its history be retained wherever possible for this is it’s true identity, the soul of the city. 




  • andygemmell says:

    Wow….very real and nice collection of images documenting what happened.

    I have a good friend from Christchurch living in Sydney and the descriptions he’s provided are shocking. The kiwis a tough bunch and those who survived will bounce back and sympathy to anyone who may have lost someone in this terrible event.

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Andrew,

      It’s true, the Kiwi’s are very hard bunch, the spirit of the people will ensure the city bounces back from this event regardless of the obstacles they face.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Bruce Esplin says:

    Jason – a very sensitive, confronting and moving essay. Coming from my background, it has an even greater resonance!

    Well done!


    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Bruce,

      As you know I’m no writer, I did hope to adequately convey the message in words and images though so I’m delighted by your comment.

      All the best,


  • SF says:

    Lovely set of images. Interesting to see how the city rebuilds.

  • Bob Rhodes says:

    Great post Jason, excellent images and words. As was said above, sensitively written, one can only imagine the devastation and grief these things bring, good luck to the population there in the rebuild of their city.

  • Josh says:

    Great work as always Jason. Really poignant and stark. I think it conveys the message really well.
    It is hard to believe it is still like this after two and a half years. You can only feel for the people that still feel compelled to live here or have no other option.

    • janrzm says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks, definitely hard to believe and I’d reiterate a point that Bruce Esplin made to me in email. We forget too quickly, once a story has slipped from media attention we simply move on, just the way of the world it seems.

      I can understand people leaving, I can also understand those that choose to stay and rebuild even though there have been literally thousands of smaller quakes since.

      Cheers, Jason.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Paula says:

    Nicely done Jason. It is interesting seeing these images from 2 1/2 years later. I worked in the Red Zone immediately after as part of the DVI Teams in my role as Forensic Photographer. Coming across this blog has brought some vivid memories back. That said, I experienced the most job satisfaction I have ever had, and it was a timely reminder of what Mother Nature can do.

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Paula,

      Indeed, underestimate mother nature at your peril….I suppose when you train for something and are then required to put that training to use in such extreme circumstances it’s probably no surprise you found that level of job satisfaction. For me it was quite a shock to see how much of the devastation remained and just how big a task rebuilding is.

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