Some of South Auckland’s most promising female photography students get the chance to shine in a unique photographic project launched to mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa
WORDS | ADRIAN HATWELL
This year marks the 125th anniversary of Aotearoa becoming the first self-governing country in the world in which all women have the right to vote. Many events up and down the country have celebrated the moves towards true equality that have taken place since 1893. One photography project, on the other hand, decided to use the occasion to look forward, celebrating the young female photographers who are poised to take the art into the future.
The Guest Stars project came about when celebrated art photographer Edith Amituanai decided she wanted to try connecting with young photographers outside of her own community. Edith’s award-winning work has most often focused on her immediate surroundings, documenting her family and community and their deep roots in West Auckland. Always interested in exploring things from a different angle, Edith decided to try engaging with a different community, as an outsider and using photography as a bridge; the seed of Guest Stars was planted.
“I was keen to work with locals from South Auckland, so I connected with Manukau Institute of Technology [MIT] students through photography lecturer Caryline Boreham,” says Edith, “working with rising stars, you could say. The ‘guest’ part acknowledges my presence as a guest to O¯tara.”
Caryline, programme leader for the Diploma in Photography course at MIT, introduced Edith to an array of female photography students in the Bachelor of Creative Arts and Diploma of Photography programme. The idea was that Edith and Caryline, as established photographic artists, would guide the students through selecting work for a group exhibition that would showcase the stories of these emerging female artists, primarily from South Auckland.
“The students were very excited,” Caryline tells us. “For many of them, this was the first time that they had exhibited work in a gallery. I thought it was also an amazing opportunity for them to share their work with their friends and family.”
With a project anchored so firmly in community, the artists needed an exhibition space with the same set of values, and they couldn’t have hoped for a better fit than Fresh Gallery O¯ tara. Located close to MIT, the art space was developed to promote exhibitions, workshops, and public programmes that specifically relate to the gallery’s location and its communities.
Annie Bradley, an Auckland Council programmer for arts and culture, who had been in contact with Edith for a few years, connected the artists with the gallery space. She was excited to help unite the thematic strands of the suffrage anniversary and promotion of local up-and-coming talent.
“Fresh Gallery O¯ tara has a commitment to mentoring and giving opportunities to emerging artists, and we were supportive of the idea that photography students from Manukau Institute of Technology would be able to work with a renowned photographer, such as Edith, on the process of putting the exhibition together,” Annie explains.
The resulting exhibition was one of professional quality and artistic sophistication, despite the fact that most of the students were in their first year of study and had never taken a photography course before.
“There are a range of themes, from interiors and domestic space to portraits, suburban settings to the rural landscapes of South Auckland, so visitors have a variety of ideas to relate to,” Annie says. “I would like to think that visitors might leave with a sense of being inside someone else’s life — the small moments that we can appreciate and that could even make us see the world differently.”
Caryline says that the students enjoyed the experience of presenting their work in a professional manner and the benefit of working with a respected artist and gallery.
“I was extremely proud of the way these students stepped up to this opportunity, and also the hard work they put in to create each series of work. Edith was incredibly generous in her offer to include these young artists in this exhibition,” she says.
For Edith, sharing the exhibition process and expanding her creative community was an enriching experience: “What I was looking to feature in the show was a range of voices and an authentic engagement with the photographic medium. I hope the show is affirming to those who were involved, that it encourages making, and [that it] acknowledges that their work is important.”
Looked at from the context of celebrating the suffrage movement, Guest Stars seems very much like a gift to photography of the future: these up-and-coming photography stars have been afforded a peek into what might become their professional lives, while the audience now has a list of names to keep watching in the years to come.