New Zealand D-Photo



Throughout a diverse portfolio, one of the most constant elements of Vanessa’s photograph­y is her clear connection with people. Be it a staged portrait or candid street scene, the photograph­er seems always able to coax out a sense of relaxed openness from her subjects.

Vanessa is never found without a camera strung across her shoulder — “it’s as much a part of my life as getting up and brushing my teeth” — and when out in public she’s always on an instinctua­l hunt for people who interest her with their “vibe”, something she is compelled to try to capture on film in the moment.

“My eye sees so much that I haven’t been able to capture with my camera yet,” she explains. “It feels like a continuing process, and I think that may go on for the rest of my life. It’s OK that I might not ever get to the point that I can portray what my eye sees — but I’m going to keep trying.”

The photograph­er’s ability to connect with her subjects is most prominentl­y on display in her Home Portraits series. For these images, the subjects have invited Vanessa inside their most personal spaces to have an image created that expresses their unique identities.

“I felt it was an authentic way to capture people, in their own environmen­t and space, rather than moving them somewhere more aesthetica­lly pleasing. It just sat right with me.”

With these portraits, the process of creation begins with the relationsh­ip itself. Vanessa has to achieve a high level of trust with the person she is shooting before being invited into their innermost domain.

“I can photograph a little bit more intimately because I can go into their space. Even though the portraits are quite deadpan and straight-on, it’s a big thing for someone to let me into their space and allow me to capture that.”

Through the Home Portraits images, we are invited to explore both the physical identity of the subject and the way their inner life has been projected onto the space around them. Meaningful collection­s of artefacts and bric-a-brac, the artwork and posters that adorn walls, bookcases jammed with a syllabus of personal passions, workspaces laid out with tools of the trade and inspiratio­n, bedrooms bedecked with cultural pride and family memories.

“I think everyone has an amazing space; it’s just a matter of capturing that — that’s the beauty of it,” says Vanessa.

“People surround themselves with these little things that they love, that they’ve collected, or that are important to them. The little conversati­ons you have with people: ‘I have this little thing here, and I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s from this person at this time …’

“There’s always a little story; it’s really beautiful.”

In the immediate future, the photograph­er plans to keep focusing on engaging with people and their spaces, although she does feel her practice may soon pull her in a slightly different direction. Growing up in Auckland, disconnect­ed from the Nga¯ti Maniapoto roots on her father’s side, Vanessa is keen to begin a journey of cultural reconnecti­on — and her camera is bound to play an important part.

“I often use my photograph­y as a tool to help me feel comfortabl­e in spaces that are sometimes hard. I totally think of it as my language.”

Where this compulsion to document people and space will take the photograph­er, Vanessa remains unsure. But for now she is content to enjoy the fixation, continue building a body of work, and further refine her practice.

“I feel like I’m doing a lot of groundwork, I want to let my work sit for a while. I have my whole life; I don’t want to rush that process.”

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