KATY WARD | Edited extracts
WELLFLEET, USA — It has been more than 50 years since Barbara Kirk pitched her red tent and camped along the coral atolls of the Trobriand Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Or flew in a missionary chopper with hip guys, or trekked a dense rain forest by foot, snapping photographs of tribal villages and their people while on assignment for National Geographic.
But to Kirk it feels like yesterday.
“So many memories,” Kirk says while sipping tea at her home on Paine Hollow Road in Wellfleet. “I was so impressionable and it was all so new.
“I remember the canoeing, flying for hours in little Cessnas and landing in difficult positions for the pilot to get more petrol. It was marvellous.
“Pitching our tent right by water with fish coming in and all the natives hanging out. There was lots of activity. It was interesting. What bugs me is I don’t like the way I dressed. I look kind of corny.”
Now 88, Kirk reflects on her days photographing the remote island country north of Australia.
“National Geographic was great,” she says. “They were really special in terms of giving you time to get what you wanted or needed.”
Photographers needed that time to build up a rapport with the indigenous people who may never have seen a white person before.
Kirk and her ex-husband, Malcolm, spent several months photographing in New Guinea during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had proposed the location and Kirk, who had found a passion for photography while pursuing a career in education, decided to go along for the experience.
“I’m sure times have changed since then,” she says. But at the time in New Guinea “women and men were very separated. You never saw a husband and wife strolling around. Men were respectful to me and knew we had a different perspective on things.”
Though Kirk has made a living as a photographer, it wasn’t something she always envisioned. She spent her childhood in New Haven, Connecticut.
Kirk graduated from Wheaton College in Norton with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in the German language. It was her German professor who organised the trip abroad that ultimately sparked her travel bug.
Kirk and her ex-husband went to New Guinea three times on assignment for National Geographic. When Kirk returned home her love of photography continued. She published two children’s books, ‘Grandpa, Me and Our House in the Tree’ in 1978 and ‘Sunny, the Death of a Pet’ in 1986. She also created a series of photographic stills for a historical novel.
But it’s the pictures in her mind of her days abroad that will always remain most colourful.