Ans Westra CNZM was self-taught in the art discipline she ultimately selected. As a documentary photographer she decided to focus on the way Māori adapted to life in Aotearoa, mainly in the 60's and again up to the turn of the Century.
Ans Westra was born in April 1936 in Leiden, Holland to a middle-class family, where the war intervened in contact with the outside world and different cultures. She moved away from Leiden to Rotterdam to follow a 4 year course in textile arts. The History of Art and eventually the immediacy of photographic expression became accessible, as did travel. So she followed her father, who had settled in New Zealand, bringing with her first trusted Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. In Wellington, she joined the Wellington Camera Club and Ngati Poneke. Initially just hitch-hiking around the country she took many photographs of Māori people. The Education Department started using un-posed photographs of real people, which was also a break-through at the time when illustrations still felt less invasive.
A major book: Māori, with text by Professor James Ritchie was published by AH & AW Reed in 1967. Notes on the Country I live In with text by James K Baxter and Tim Shadbolt
was published in 1972 by Alister Taylor.
In 1986 she won the Pacific sectionof the Commonwealth Photograph Award, taking her to London to exhibit with other Documentary photographers. Many more publications, residencies, grants and more recently exhibitions followed. Handbook, Ans Westra Photographs, an exhibition and major book was published in 2004 and toured around New Zealand as well as being shown in Leiden at Volkenkunde museum. And in December 2019 she had an exhibition at the Anastasia Gallery in New York.
Besides her work with the Rolleiflex 6x6 format, mostly in black and white analog, gradually colour started playing an important part in the work. For its own sake, as a design element, as a mood. And with the introduction of digital photography, endless image making becomes a reality. The cost of film and the magic of the visualised and captured image have been replaced by the ability to readably develop ideas and immediately judge their success, but it will be difficult for future generations to separate out reality.
In 1982 the Alexander Turnbull Library established an archive of Westra's work in Wellington.