As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In my view, this couldn’t describe photography better. A well-crafted photo speaks volumes, transcending language barriers to communicate emotions, stories, and perspectives in an instant. Whether portraying a powerful portrait or capturing a candid moment, photography can challenge preconceptions and broaden our understanding of the world.
My journey with photography started at the age of 13 with a Canon AE-1, an aging film camera once owned by a wedding photographer from the '80s. I fell in love with it immediately. Learning on an aging film camera wasn't the easiest introduction to photography but it opened my eyes to the art of manipulating film to create double exposures and experiment with lighting and compression from an early stage with a complete understanding of what that meant.
This early experience laid the foundation for my love of documentary-style portraits, event coverage, and travel photography.
Photographers like Don McKellen, renowned for capturing London's homelessness in the '60s and '70s, and Marti Friedlander, who immigrated to New Zealand and made a name for herself with her documentarian style, serve as constant sources of inspiration. Their ability to freeze moments, evoke emotions, and capture the interest of viewers is truly remarkable. Their photographs act as a visual anchor, advocating for important causes, amplifying voices, and shedding light on marginalized stories and social issues.
As you can tell, my connection to photography is personal, so I'm happy to use my passion to share some of my favourite photos from the Arts Access Aotearoa image library.
This photo on the right, taken during Auckland Theatre Company’s 2023 play "Heartbreak Choir", stood out to me in the Arts Access Aotearoa catalogue. The sheer joy on the actors' faces illustrates that a photo doesn’t always need perfect lighting or composition; it’s about conveying emotion and story.
The lefthand photo was taken at the opening of "Wahine" at the Auckland Arts Festival. "Wahine" was a multi-media exhibition that toured New Zealand for three years, amplifying Māori women’s voices and sharing the subjects’ stories. You can read more about the exhibition and view the online gallery here: The Exhibition - The Woven Women. I adore the composition of this photo with Dr Maia Hetaraka (Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Paoa) photographed in the background overlooking the two women standing proudly in front. It’s almost like Maia is overseeing the events of the opening ceremony and watching over the two women.
The photo on the right of this page is from the same launch and it’s a fantastic example of powerful event photography. The photographer has chosen to frame the emotional hongi between two attendees with the busyness of the people around them. To me, the emotion of the hongi and shared connection of the two people stand out even more. They’re surrounded by the chaos of the event, but their pause and moment of connection is so much more potent because of that.
As part of our communications mahi at Arts Access Aotearoa, we are sometimes asked what the best ways to take product-style photos of artworks are. That is why I wrote our guide to smartphone photography (go the end of this blog for links to the pdf and Word documents).
I chose to share this photo on the left because it beautifully showcases the details of a delicate Matariki weaving created by Moana Harrison. The soft lighting and crisp details help spotlight the artwork and its story. With art, it’s crucial that the photography is simple and complimentary, allowing the art to speak for itself.
In a nutshell, photography is about freezing a moment to tell stories. And for me, the enduring impact of photography lies in its ability to connect people to these special moments. It's a bit like time travel. I hope some of these photos resonated strongly with you too.
Sophie Macdonald is Communications Assistant at Arts Access Aotearoa and professional photographer at shotbysophie.com
Guide to smartphone photography for beginners (Word 311 KB)
Guide to smartphone photography for beginners ((pdf 179 KB))