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Golden age: Emma Hughes

D-Photo talks to Waiheke Island wedding photographer Emma Hughes about her exhibition, Super (part of the Auckland Festival of Photography), which looks in on the island's lively older community

4 June 2013

D-Photo looks at interesting photographers doing interesting things – Waiheke Island wedding photographer Emma Hughes talks with us about her new exhibition, Super (part of the Auckland Festival of Photography), which looks in on the island’s lively older community.

D-Photo: Can you please briefly describe your Super exhibition? 

Emma Hughes: Super is an exhibition showcasing Waiheke Island’s 70-plus community.  It features black and white studio portraits capturing the personality and spirit of the subjects.  Each photograph is accompanied by quotes from each individual, ranging from their favourite memory to advice for the youth of today.

Bonn Cox

What inspired you to focus on people aged 70 and over?

Two reasons: One, I was inspired by ‘the world’s oldest flash mob’ , a hip hop performance group organised by Billie Jordan in 2012 (google Waiheke Flash Mob and there are quite a number of clips about them). And two, last year both of my grandmothers had moments of being quite ill, and it made me think about the preciousness of capturing the people we love while we have them with us.  I think too often we put off important photos like that, so I hoped that my images would capture these gems in the Waiheke community and show off their sparkle, not only for those that love them but also for future generations.

What do you think makes Waiheke Island’s older community unique?

The older community on Waiheke is a ‘go get ’em’ lot, who are very involved in living life to it’s fullest.

How did you go about rounding up your subjects? 

I approached Billie and enlisted her help to spread the word, and also went to the local Retirement Village and put an invitation to participate in their notices.  There was no real selection process – everyone who put up their hand became part of the exhibition with the only criteria being that they had to be over 70 … and had to agree to their ages being made public (this made one or two of them reconsider their involvement).

Gramya Alonso-Barth

Why did you decide to shoot in black and white?

The timelessness of the medium.  The black and white really enables the viewer to focus in on the details of the subjects without distraction… and it’s great for calling attention to all those lovely wrinkles!

How long did you spend with each subject to get his or her individual quotes?

I asked them each a few questions at the conclusion of our shoot and recorded their answers on my iPhone, which caused a bit of a titter from some of the subjects.  All in all the interview part of the shoot took no longer than 10 minutes.

Selwyn Redwood

How did you decide on what sort of quote to choose for the subject?

I tried to use a quote or memory that would reflect the subject and also the photo that I had chosen of them, but I also had to keep in mind that I wanted to give a good variety over the whole exhibition, so sometimes that directed my choice.

Do you have a favourite quote from the exhibition?

Not so much a particular quote, but more the overall sentiment that came through from every subject of grabbing life while you can and living every day as if it is your last.

Brenda Long

How about a favourite image?

I found the whole experience very moving actually, so it’s quite hard to choose a favourite image… but I am particularly taken with the drama of Brenda Long’s portrait (age 79 – above), and the defiance in the gaze of life long peace campaigner Maynie Thompson (age 93 – below).

What do you hope viewers will take away from Super?

I hope they get a sense of the magic and enthusiasm of these gorgeous people.  All who have dreamed their dreams, and done big – or little – things in their precious lives.  Each as important as the next, so special to the ones that love them.   I hope a viewer will take away a sense of their uniqueness, and also of the fleetingness of life.

Maynie Thompson

What do you reckon you’ll be up to when you’re 70?

Still creating. Hopefully living a happy, healthy life somewhere warm with my equally happy and healthy husband.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The images are accompanied by an audio track with their interviews playing so if you are visiting you should set aside enough time to sit down and listen to their voices as well… it really is quite a lovely viewing experience.

Super is showing now and runs until June 21 at Emma Hughes Photo Gallery, Oneroa, Waiheke Island, as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography.