The most fundamental of New Zealand questions is difficult for me to answer.
"So what do you do"?
I never enjoyed answering this cocktail question because it reflects an epidemic that does not fit with my values – that job descriptions are self-descriptions.
If someone asks me now, I explain my lifestyle of mysterious means simply.
“I am a drug dealer”
Pretty much a conversation ender.
The truth, at least the truth I live by and will share with you is quite different, I prefer to bend reality to my will, because how I make money is not how I define myself.
I will tell you how I got here.
I was an artistic child and was encouraged to continue on to higher education in this field. I completed a Masters degree from Auckland University in Fine Arts and majored in photography. Having a practical bent I went on to practise professional photography for 15 years. photographing for TV, film, magazines, corporate brochures and marketing. I had the privilege of walking into other peoples work or home lives, (depending on the circumstances) being given full access, taking what I wanted, bossing them around during the process and leaving again.
Only to walk into someone else’s life the next day and repeating the process.
I have great memories of many of these encounters. When I was assigned by Metro magazine to photograph David Lange at his house in Mangere, long after his days in parliament, I sat on the front porch of his dilapidated old villa for 15 minutes while he drove his then baby daughter around his large circular driveway strapped in her car seat until she fell asleep. Being a young woman with no experience of children at the time, the whole episode seemed quite bizarre.
Now as a parent I know it's common place.
I used to think to myself, what must it be like to be those people I encountered; the Parnell ladies with their House and garden show homes growing the perfect tulips in spring, or the workers making the bed springs in a now defunct bed factory in Grey Lynn or slaughtering animals in an abattoir in Napier, (photographers go to the most unlikely places) and I would conclude I was forever thankful I could walk out and start over the next day.
The most rewarding period of work for me was being contracted to Fletcher Challenge for 4 years. I photographed the construction of the Sky Tower in Auckland, balancing on the arm of that little crane waving in the breeze on top of the tower, as it grew taller, being one of only 4 women out of 2000 workers on site.
Then, based on that success, traveling around the South Pacific islands including Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and the Solomon Islands, dangling out of helicopters, visiting schools, photographing their projects, bridges, airports, hospitals and of course, the people. There was a definite advantage in being a woman photographer in those circumstances. The men generally are not very comfortable in front of a camera and particularly if they are the suited Chief executives, they can be very stiff. But I would get very hands on, ruffle them up, pat them down, jiggle their tie and they would go all floppy and become meek and malleable like putty in my hands.
But my favourite job with Fletchers had to be photographing the tunnelling project - the construction of the 2nd tailrace tunnel on Lake Manapouri. The sandflys are as big as birds, there is constant rain and the scenery is extraordinary. I think this was the most challenging industrial photography of my career.
One morning I went underground with a group of men, 200 metres below the surface in a little basket, then stepped out into a platform and tunnel and into a smaller basket and lowered another 50 metres to the rock face they were blasting that day. You could hear the water thundering behind the rock, it seeped out of the cracks in the walls and on the ground. The men laid explosives in the rock face and we went back up in the little basket 50 metres to the platform.
I was younger then and had absolutely no fear or worries about what might or might not happen. We all huddled together 200 metres under the ground as the explosives were detonated. I was told to hold my hard hat on my head and huddle in close with the group. I did, but nothing happened, so I took my hands off my head and was thinking I might take some more photos when the men beside me shook their heads and indicated I need to hold my hat and prepare.
The explosions come in three blasts and literally picked us all off our feet. Three waves of hot air threw us up as a group and blew us backwards all huddled together. Afterwards, everyone laughed and the men joked it was better than sex.
And I have to agree it was pretty exciting.
Since then I have lived overseas, travelled, married, had a family, own an online ecotourism business, worked as a travel agent, a graphic designer, a magazine production manager, a book publisher, planted a redwood forest and it’s far from over yet. I intend to continue to explore my world learning and developing skills I don’t have, that interest me. –
That is why I am here, just don’t limit my possibilities by asking me what I do.