Any chance they get, Gisborne-based florist Holly Tong, left, and photographer Runa Kuru Kristjonsdottir round up their families and head to a quiet beach for a lazy weekend. But this Sunday is different: today the artistic duo are flying to Venice, Italy, where one of their striking floral photographic prints is a finalist in the Arte Laguna Prize, a prestigious international art competition. Laura
Baker hears more.
The close friends launched their successful collaboration Runa & Holly almost by accident when, in the middle of wedding season last year, Iceland-born Kuru Kristjonsdottir started snapping Tong’s floral creations. Holly: For the past four years Runa and I have spent Sundays at the beach with our families. We’ve got six kids between us, three each, and both families have caravans parked up on the coast over the whole summer. They’re at this beautiful beach about 30 minutes away from home and we try to get away every weekend we can. The kids run wild and we go surfing, snorkelling and exploring in the rock pools. It’s so remote that we often have the beach to ourselves – we’re pretty lucky. There’s just a small number of people at the camp ground and it’s the same crowd who go every summer. Some families have been going since 1998.
Holly: Runa and I are both very optimistic in style. It was a nerve-racking couple of weeks wondering whether or not our print Volucris from our second collection was going to be selected for the finals of the competition. We believed we’d make it through, but were still super surprised when we got the news. To celebrate we went out for a meal together and sprung for a beautiful bottle of Italian champagne. I first stumbled across the awards when doing some research into how to get some good exposure for Runa + Holly internationally. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to enter. We said to each other: “Let’s just do it.” That’s often our motto. Italy is like a second home for me, but it’s Runa’s first time so we’re going to make the most of it. It will be awesome rubbing shoulders with other artists.
Runa: We first met when I was 21 and Holly was 16. I came to New Zealand in 2002 for a year and we met at a restaurant where we worked as waitresses. We had a different relationship back then because Holly was at high school, it was almost like I had a big sister role. After my year in New Zealand I went home to Iceland. Then, six years later, we reunited when I moved back to Gisborne. Our kids were very similar ages so there were a lot of play dates and hanging out and we’ve been close ever since. The awesome thing about living in Gisborne is the work-life balance. Spending time outside and enjoying life is a real priority.
Holly: We had talked for years over coffee that we should do something together. It finally came about when I was in the middle of wedding season last year. I wanted a way to appreciate the beautiful bouquets I worked to create, but never have time to enjoy because I’m always in such a rush to get them out. So Runa came over on three separate mornings when I was making boutiques for local weddings and she shot them in less than a hour before they were sent off to the bridal party. We made some prints of the photos Runa took and just loved them. We called the photos Collection One and from that Runa + Holly bloomed quite naturally.
Runa: Our prints feel really romantic and luxurious. I photographed the flowers with a very specific look in mind. We wanted our prints to look like paintings. They purposely don’t look like arranged bouquets, the point was to make them feel wild with a real sense of movement. We are very drawn to dark spaces, it is almost about what you can’t see than what you can see and what floats in between that vivid and deep spaces in the images.
Holly: People ask Runa and I if we have a favourite print, but they are all our favourites. We’ve just released our second collection, named Collection Two – we like to keep things simple. This time around we specifically shot for our artwork, rather than flowers
“We wanted our prints to look like paintings. The point was to make them feel wild with a real sense of movement.”
destined for weddings. We had the opportunity to put a lot more thought and preparation into these prints. We took hundreds of photos, which we whittled down to 70 that we just loved. Then we had to fine tune our shortlist to just 10 images that really spoke to us. So we really love all 10 photos you see in Collection Two. Collection One has been selling well overseas. Most of our prints are sent to Australia, that’s our biggest market, and we also have customers in America, Singapore and of course New Zealand.
Runa: It wouldn’t have been possible to create the collections without each other. Holly and I have different styles, but they are also quite complementary and we admire each other’s work. One has what the other doesn’t, so we work together really well. If one person ever has doubt, and there is a lot of self-doubt in art, the other person is there to be supportive. It’s way easier to put yourself out there and be brave with someone there beside you.