Geographx in 2017

Well, that went fast. It felt like a shorter year than 2016 and I don’t appear to have got quite as much done. I hope I’m not slowing down. Still, having fun and I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. Best of all, there are still plenty of challenges and opportunities out there.

What follows is a summary, not a full report. I have highlighted a few of the more interesting or significant projects I worked on last year, and described a few events that seemed important at the time. Taken together with the previous year’s report (above) it should provide some insight into what Geographx gets up to and what keeps me off the streets.

Map of aftershocks following the Kaikoura Earthquake – produced for NZ Geographic magazine

Most of my New Zealand map design work was again provided by the tourism and outdoor recreation/adventure sectors. This area always throws up a wide range of interesting projects.

In 2017 I produced multiple large format wall maps for the new combined iSITE/DOC Visitor Centre on Princes Wharf in Auckland and a new wall map for the DOC Visitor Centre at Haast. Feature wall maps were also designed for the Fullers ferry terminal in Auckland, and for a number of luxury and less luxurious lodges.
I worked with several helicopter and fixed wing operators, compiling route maps, producing map graphics to use in marketing, and working with operator user groups to try and better identify and visualise flight corridors, reporting points, landing areas and directional protocols in the often-congested airspace over the West Coast glaciers and Aoraki/Mt Cook area.

Other maps were prepared to support ecotourism multiday cruise operations in Fiordland and around Stewart Island. And numerous signboards and maps were designed to support events and activities in the New Zealand back-country, whether walking, tramping, mountain-running, mountain-biking, fishing, climbing, ski-touring, or kayaking. Clients included the Department of Conservation, territorial authorities, tourism companies, trusts (eg: Te Araroa Trail) and clubs (eg: NZ Alpine Club).

The New Zealand wine industry was again supportive, with video maps produced for the Pinot 2017 festival in Wellington and map graphics of one sort or another supplied to a number of different vineyards and wineries. A map was also produced for a Canadian company showing the disposition of vineyards and wineries along the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Historical military mapping was yet another recurring theme, largely thanks to the NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the current spate of WW100 commemorative projects. In 2017 I worked with historian Monty Souter, drawing the maps for his history of the Maori Pioneer Battalion at Gallipoli and on the Western Front during the First World War. I provided maps also for a soon-to-be published biography of General Sir Alexander Godley (veteran of the Boer War and Commander of the NZ Expeditionary Force and II Anzac Corps during the First War), and maps interpreting the battles of Beersheba and Ayun Kara fought by the Anzac Mounted Division in 1917 Palestine. ‘Fearless’, the extraordinary story of New Zealand’s airmen in the Great War, also features Geographx maps (the book authored by Adam Claasen, published by Massey University Press)

extract from Federation Peak 3D graphic

One my more interesting assignments in 2017 was a commission from National Geographic magazine to produce a 3D map graphic of the Okavango Basin in Botswana. I never got to do a field inspection unfortunately. Smaller offbeat projects included a 3D map graphic of Federation Peak in Tasmania for Australian Geographic magazine, a WW2 era map of Poland, and maps to connect visitors with local artists for the Taranaki Arts Trail.

My long-standing and valued association with NZ Wilderness magazine continued in 2017, though after 10 years we have decided that the potential for Wild Range maps has pretty much been exhausted. We have yet to decide what comes next, though hopefully Geographx maps will continue to appear in the magazine from time to time.

Unfolding the Map is the exhibition I curated in 2015 that showcases the cartography of New Zealand. Surprisingly it remains open for viewing at the National Library. It was never designed nor intended to run so long and I will be relieved when it finally closes in March 2018 after nearly 2½ years.

A novel experience for me last year was a stint as a university lecturer, filling in at Victoria University for 6 weeks teaching the MGIS 403 paper on Cartography & Geovisualisation. While I was fortunate in not having to design any of the course and had access to existing course materials, I was nonetheless challenged because the MGIS is run across three campuses with students also enrolled at the University of Canterbury and the Auckland University of Technology. This means class content needs to be streamed to students outside Wellington using video-conferencing technology. In hindsight I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent in front of class and getting to know the students. I was less enthusiastic about the drudgery of marking, I hope I contributed at least something of value, and I confess to a new-found respect for the unique challenges face by academic teaching staff. I have long believed there needs to be closer collaboration between academia and the commercial environment and my brief experience has reinforced that belief.

2017 was the first year in a long time where I didn’t attend a single conference or workshop (I did do a lightning presentation to Auckland City via video link). My poor record was partly because two of my favourite such gatherings are biennial events and we were between years. Geocart 18 is scheduled again for Wellington in September 2018 and I will be attending the 11th ICA Mountain Cartography workshop in Croatia in May. The Asia-Pacific chapter of the International Map Industry Association (IMIA) is now defunct so there was no conference there in 2017. I considered attending the International Cartographic Conference (ICC 2017) in Washington DC but decided against it. I didn’t do any road trips around New Zealand last year either. I will try and rectify that in 2018 as I’ve always found face-to-face meetings with clients invaluable.

I didn’t put much effort into trying to win map awards last year, again because of the reduced opportunities (no IMTA Asia-Pacific Awards, no NZCS Map Awards), but also because I had next to no new maps to offer. There was still reason to smile though and I was chuffed to learn my map of the Olivine Wilderness was runner-up in the sheet map category at the 2017 International Cartographic Exhibition in Washington DC.

My biggest surprise of the year (and arguably the biggest shock/thrill of my career) came at the 2017 NZ Spatial Excellence Awards dinner in November. I was there to present an award for Map Design to Wellington City Council on behalf of the NZ Cartographic Society. I did that and having fulfilled my responsibilities I sat down and was about to hook into the pinot when to my astonishment I was called back up on stage and presented with an award for outstanding contribution to the spatial industry. I have always considered myself somewhat on the periphery of the industry, certainly not conventional mainstream so it was a very humbling experience, the more so given the respect I have for so many others who were present and who have themselves have contributed so much.

My association with the Skyline comprehensive suite of 3D geospatial visualisation software products continues although I am conscious I should be devoting more time and effort to this cutting-edge side of the business. Skyline’s Photomesh 7.3.1 is an exciting product which sets new standards in automating the generation of high-resolution, highly-detailed, textured, 3D mesh models from standard 2D photographs.

Somewhat off-topic but another interesting experience last year resulted in my first, and no doubt last, credited appearance in a full length film. This was Team Tibet, an award-winning documentary that premiered at the 2017 International Film Festival. Directed and produced by Robin Greenberg, the film focuses on Tibet and the life of New Zealand’s first Tibetan refugee,Thuten Kesang. My own involvement came about because Thuten is crazy about maps, and we were filmed together looking at the Platinum Earth Atlas, and discussing Tibetan geography and geopolitics.

And towards the end of the year I found myself in Miramar, in front of a classroom of gifted primary school children and talking about maps. Their ability to stay focused, to constructively participate in the conversation, their existing level of awareness and their enthusiasm and thirst for new knowledge blew me away. I left the school feeling I had been the prime beneficiary of this encounter – and smiling to think the future of mapping will likely be in very good hands!

I did some mentoring during the year, talked one-on-one to a number of newcomers looking to enter the geo-spatial industry and hosted planned visits of discovery from other organisations’ interns. I am keen to do a bit more along these lines and give something back to an industry that has by and large been supportive, given me licence to push boundaries and not held me too strictly to account.

However my main objective in 2018 will be to produce and publish more of my own maps for Geographx – and this may mean less emphasis on commissioned and client-driven work. In December 2017 I finally published a new revised parallel oblique wall map for the Tararuas, my first new map for the best part of two years. Early in the New Year I plan to produce a long-promised companion map covering the Ruahines. And there will be others…!

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