The Waiotapu geothermal field occupies some 18 square kilometres in the Waikato region, on the North Island of New Zealand. The area is most striking, and most known, for its colours—vivid and otherworldly, they leach out of the earth in fluorescent hues, pool in bodies of water scattered across large spans of land. Moving through this landscape is an exercise in the suspension of disbelief, in the willingness to trust that your eyes do not deceive you; that, yes, such colours exist and they do so independently of human interference or ingenuity.
In the Champagne Pool, one of Waiotapu’s most prominent features, the temperature averages about 75 degrees Celsius. When I visit, in early December, its startling blues and oranges are hidden beneath thick clouds of steam rising metres into the air; a heavy-seeming, solid-seeming, mass of white that shifts and dissipates unpredictably. This photograph, shot on Kodak Ektar 100, renders on film the brilliant colours that the eye perceives but the mind never adequately records, when the mist, pushed by an unseen breeze, withdraws from the edge of the pool. It is a faithful record, however, of only a momentary clarity and stillness: in seconds the wind changes direction; the surface is swallowed again in whiteness.