Across the International Date Line

In early 2015 architectural photographer Katherine Lu travelled to Rarotonga with a simple ambition: to escape Sydney and sit on a tropical beach for awhile. And she did that, but also spent time exploring the back roads of the island by scooter, with her camera and a roll of film on hand. ‘Across the International Date Line’ is a photo series which documents her travels.

As far as tropical island paradises go, Rarotonga in the Cook Islands ticks all the boxes. You’ll find the island by heading 4,801 kilometres east of Brisbane, skirting past New Caledonia and Fuji and crossing the International Date Line as you go. It’s a dot in the South Pacific, but zoom in and you’ll find a shimmering blue lagoon that meets white sands, palm trees and the kind of crystalline sunlight that seems to be constantly winking one eye at you.

These are the views of Rarotonga that flood the pages of Google. But as with all holiday destinations there are other sights to be found should you go looking for them.

‘As a photographer I felt freer when I was there because my eye line wasn’t obstructed by tall buildings in the background,’ says Katherine of her time in Rarotonga. ‘I was surrounded by lush tropical greenery that enveloped me and combine that with being on the back of a scooter stopping whenever I wanted, it was a great opportunity to start a photo series.’

‘What I first noticed and photographed was the tropical kudzu (Pueraria phaseoloides) because of the way it takes on whatever form it’s trying to engulf. As I tried to find more kudzu I began to photograph the plants and mountains around it and eventually reverted back to my instincts of wanting to include some hint of habitation, whether it be where someone lives or what someone has left behind.’

All of these elements show strongly in Katherine’s images, which intuitively look away from the standard tourist vistas and instead plunge deep into the forests and domestic constructs on the island.

Throughout the series there seems to be an active push and pull at work: walls and ceilings may be built, but the volcanic jungle is ever present and is far from quiet in its preparedness to step in and take over.

‘The Cook Islands themselves look incredibly serene and tourist friendly if you Google image them,’ says Katherine. ‘However, the population doesn’t always fit the the hammock and siesta stereotype. Fresh food and vegetables are quite expensive so you’ll notice that it’s mostly the tourists who can afford to eat well, the local police have banners reminding women to report on domestic violence (and the numbers are unreliable since very few cases are reported).’

‘That being said, I wasn’t there to make a social commentary on any situation but I felt that it was important to at least understand what was going on. Whether that feeds into the photographs naturally or not wasn’t my goal. As an architectural photographer I’m always looking at how a building sits amongst the landscape, and how the landscape sits within society in general. It’s that relationship I wanted to explore.’