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Friday, May 13, 2011

Picture of a tragedy

Picture of a tragedy

Grab and snap yields lasting image

Last updated 05:00 14/05/2011

An enduring image from Christchurch's earthquake might never have been taken.

As she stood in her garden watching the dust rise over the city just after the February quake, Gilly Needham was told by a shocked workman to grab her camera.

She replied she was not going inside the house because it was too dangerous.

Turning her head, however, she saw the camera within reach on the edge of the kitchen bench of her remodelled Cashmere home.

"I just reached in, grabbed it, stood and took it."

"It" was the photo of dust rising over the central city that became one of the most widely circulated images of February 22. Needham – a fashion designer who is known professionally as Gillian Melhop – posted a low-resolution picture on Facebook a couple of days later.

Unbeknown to her, the image bounced around the world. It was printed in newspapers and on websites in New Zealand and Australia, and as far away as Britain.

There was a whisper it was taken by a BBC staffer on holiday or was digitally manipulated.

It was only later, when friends mentioned her picture had gone global, that she realised she had been cheated of credit, at least, and perhaps even royalties. "I almost feel used," she said.

She regrets posting the picture online, but is now selling about 20 mounted blocks of her photo a week, and will sell enlarged prints through a Christchurch printing firm.

Not that her picture was the main concern on the day of the quake.

"My husband [Colin] works right down there ... I immediately just thought I'd never see my man again, and my daughter was down the street."

As the wail of sirens wafted up the hill from the city, Needham used binoculars to discover her husband's car was intact and the pharmacy in which he worked was still standing.

She also saw the devastation, including crushed cars and panicked people walking in circles.

Needham bought the house in December for its majestic views of the city and the mountains. The earthquake, with its memories of her own screaming, swinging lightshades and the slopping water of her swimming pool, had not put her off.

"I love this home. I feel very safe here."

But, like most Christchurch people, the almost-vacant central city has left a gaping hole.

After all, you can see it from her deck.

"The city's always ablaze with lights, but even now the inner city's always black from up here.

"It's a square void; it's like there's a big hole."

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