Patrick Gower: How we got pictures inside Pike River mine

OPINION: The photograph of Bernie Monk standing inside the Pike River mine for the first time is truly historic.

But there was a huge amount of doubt whether the images of him at the concrete wall were going to materialise.

That is because no electronics such as cameras, microphones, flashes or lights are allowed into the portal because the Pike River Recovery Agency is worried about the huge amount of methane in the mine behind the wall.

The agency was clear - pretty much no kind of camera would be allowed in there.

So we had to think creatively if we wanted to capture the symbolic moment where Mr Monk would be the closest he has been to his son Michael in the eight years since the 29 men were trapped inside the mine following its explosion.

Inside the mine.
Inside the mine. Photo credit: Newshub

Newshub South Island bureau chief Hamish Clark had the idea: "a pinhole camera" - a camera without a lens, essentially just a box.

He then took the idea further by looking for a camera without batteries - an old-school camera.

And he found one - at Photo & Video International in Merivale Mall in Christchurch.

Owner Greg Bramwell got us a rare Nikkormat FS (with a 24mm f2.8 lens).

It is totally mechanical.

The Nikkormat FS was manufactured from 1965 to 1971 - making our one around 50 years old.

The camera.
The camera. Photo credit: Newshub

Nikkormat is the brand now known as Nikon. For camera enthusiasts, it is worth noting the FS was unpopular when new because of the lack of a built-in meter, but this makes it rarer and valuable to collectors today.

We still had to get the camera signed off by the Agency's electrical superintendent.

Bernie Monk touching the  wall
Bernie Monk touching the wall Photo credit: Newshub

Ironically, we forgot to mention the tripod - and because that had aluminium in it, it got turned away when we got to the portal.

Not to be deterred, our camera operator Bob Grieve picked up a road cone

Inside the mine we used that to steady the camera as Mr Monk went and touched the wall.

Patrick Gower: How we got pictures inside Pike River mine
Photo credit: Newshub

As I watched him grip tightly onto a piece of reinforcing steel, I wondered if anyone else would ever see the incredible symbol of this father's struggle. There was no way knowing, we had no flash, it was very dark.

So we took the film back from the West Coast, across the South Island, to Photo & Video International in Merivale Mall where they started developing it the old-school way.

Amazingly, 20 minutes later the images came out - and the rest, as they say, is history.

In many ways, the old-school film camera made the moment more special - there is a real magic to what's captured on a roll of film. I think the texture of film holds true emotion.

Bernie Monk entering the Pike River mine portal for the first time.
Bernie Monk entering the Pike River mine portal for the first time. Photo credit: Newshub

And as a footnote, you will remember the camera is a collector's item - and in the days since we took the photos, its lens was sold on the internet.

The new owner knows they are getting a rare lens - what they don't know yet, is that the last set of photos it took were incredibly rare and historic too.

I hope the pictures it takes for the new owner are as special as the ones it took for us.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's National Correspondent

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