INTERVIEW // NIKI BOON
MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND
Interview by Sachin Khona // November 2017
Reading time: 15 mins
We’re over the moon to announce Niki Boon as a Keynote speaker at the next Experience photography conference for creatives in Vancouver, BC next year. We caught up with Niki in July and we love her outlook on life, her family and of course her photography. Thank you for joining us Niki, we can’t wait to see you next year in Canada.
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER?
I travelled and worked (I studied physiotherapy at university) for over four years when I was in my early twenties, and through the course of a miserable Scottish winter I enrolled in a darkroom course. I was mesmerized by the darkroom process and the magic of creating a black and white picture from start to end. I spent almost every weekend that winter in the darkroom. I put the camera away when I came back to New Zealand, and it only came out again when our eldest was born.
WHERE IS HOME FOR YOU AND WHERE DO YOU WORK? HAVE YOU ALWAYS LIVED THERE OR WAS THERE A CONSCIOUS CHOICE TO MOVE THERE?
Home is the top of the East coast of the South island of New Zealand, and has been for 5 years now. I am originally from the North island of New Zealand—I’m a North Islander by heart—but we have moved down this way due to my husband’s work. I really can’t complain since we have access to the most amazing mountains, bush, wild coastline and rivers. I do wish the sea was a little warmer, though. It builds hardy kids, that for sure.
DOES YOUR LOCATION INFLUENCE YOUR WORK IN ANY WAY?
I am inspired by the outdoors for sure and by our location here.
With our 10 acre property—as well as being within biking distance of rivers, wild coastline, hills and bush—means that my children’s playground is so varied and gives them access to a wonderful life of freedom within nature.
I strive to document this privilege as best I can.
I am my best when I am in wide open spaces, considering I grew up on a large farm.
DO YOU HAVE A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE OR OFFICE?
Oh I wish. It pretty much consists of finding our computer on our living room table amongst children’s projects (i.e. copious amounts of paper and glue along with many, many, many other bits and pieces they have found and glued together). When I get to it, I try and sneak a couple of emails in here and there during the day, but it is usually an unsuccessful attempt to be productive. Most of my actual work is done late in the evenings or first thing in the morning when the house is quiet (I treasure the whole quiet house thing).
DO YOU FEEL THERE WAS A TURNING POINT, MONUMENTAL TIME, OR SERIES OF EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU WERE FELT AS THOUGH YOU WERE ON THE RIGHT PATH IN REGARDS TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY CAREER THAT BROUGHT YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
Not really to be honest. And every time I think I come close, I am thrown by something else that reminds me that I have a long way to go before I am sure of anything in this photography world.
I think if it is anything, it is the slow realization that, actually, it isn’t really about me. It’s actually about the kids. It is their story and I am just the messenger.
Sure, it’s a story told through my eyes, but ultimately it is their story and I have the responsibility to tell it as best I can. I’m not sure that any of this is actually impacting on any photography “career,” but for me. I need a why and it doesn’t sit right with me if my why is all about me, when it is my kids I am photographing. So a slow unfolding of what and who this is all about helps with my head space. But as I said, I am not sure what—if any—effect this is having on my pictures or “career”.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE VIA A SERIES OF PHOTOS THAT YOU FEEL DEFINE THE WORK YOU’VE DONE IN THE LAST YEAR AND WHERE POSSIBLE DESCRIBE WHY EACH ONE WAS INCLUDED.
To be honest, I am not sure I have ever really developed the idea of a style. In my beginning years of making photographs, I used to search endlessly for my style, but never really found it.
I’ve just resolved to being OK with the fact that I just make pictures of whatever I am curious, amused, or intrigued about.
This also changes from time to time, depending on where my head space is at. So these pictures are just ones that I can still feel, now looking at them, how I felt when I took them. Or there are pictures that I might not have felt too strongly about at the time, but when I looked at them on the computer they made me look twice for some reason. I am not so great at self-analyzing, so I don’t always know why they move me.
Sometimes for me it is the quirky or weird things my kids do. Sometimes it is the realization that childhood is not all joy and wonder, and that it can also be loneliness, solitude, confusion, and frustration. Sometimes it is the chaos that is our life (like to use layers to tell this story), sometimes it is the surprises that end up in the frame (i.e. a hand that appears unexpected, etc.) I also like pictures that don’t tell the whole story.
WHAT INSPIRES AND MOTIVATES YOU TO CREATE?
The outdoors, wild wind, grey days (truly), crazy crap my kids get up to.
DO YOU DO ANY CREATIVE TRAINING OUTSIDE OF YOUR WORK?
Not a lot of access to courses or conferences down here where I live. So, no; No in-person stuff. Although, maybe I should. I don’t feel particularly creative at all. In fact it is my kids that are the creative ones. I am happy just feeding off their creativity (AKA weirdness and craziness).
WHEN YOU GET STUCK CREATIVELY, WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU DO TO GET UNSTUCK?
I am not a naturally creative person. I pretty much rely on something happening in front of me. But when I feel like I need to work at my creativity, I make myself carry my camera and take pictures, even when I don’t feel like there is anything inspiring going on. I am not sure I have made a decent picture yet from doing it, but I tell myself that it is giving me personal growth (and I also try to believe it).
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A PIECE OF YOUR WORK IS FINISHED AND NEEDS NO ADDITIONAL WORK?
To date, I don’t. Although I do feel like I need to move a little to the left (or right) or even step right out of the way of what I am doing right now—just a gut feeling.
ARE THERE ANY KEY LESSONS IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE? OR BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
I have been lucky enough to gleam information and advice from a range of people that I have made friends with on social media, and a lot of that advice has stayed with me. I’m not sure of the best advice, since it has all had different affects at different times.
Over the past few months I have come to the realization that I am merely the messenger. The story in front of me is what it is all about. I think it’s more important than even the picture (in a weird kind of way).
DESCRIBE A PHOTOGRAPH BURNED IN YOUR MEMORY THAT YOU NEVER TOOK BUT WISH YOU HAD.
I often find myself getting caught up in a moment in front of me and completely forgetting to lift the camera to my face until it is too late. This happens often. It may just be my emotional attachment to my subjects.
CAN YOU SHARE ONE CREATIVE TIP THAT YOU USE WHEN YOU ARE WORKING?
Like I said, I am not a naturally creative person. So I don’t feel I am the best to advise here. However, for me it is about being truly, and deeply, curious about what is going on in front of me.
That and work hard.
Try really hard to get a that shot, even if there doesn’t seem to be one there. I think this is where the growth happens (if not the results).
CAN YOU SHARE AN IMAGE THAT YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF AND TELL US WHY?
Getting an image with all four of them in the frame is always a challenge. So this image was a small achievement for me.
WHAT ARE THE 3 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE?
Top: My kids. They never tell you just how important these small humans will become in your life. Or maybe they do and I never fully grasped it. It’s crazy, but awesome.
Next would be freedom of choice. So grateful for all that I have in my life, in all aspects.
DO YOU WORK IN ANY OTHER FIELDS OF BUSINESS?
Well I have this whole all-consuming life as a mother. Not sure where that fits in, but it is real. I look forward to seeing what other avenues I explore as my kids get older and more independent.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR DAILY SCHEDULE / ROUTINES?
I am the worlds worst at anything that looks even remotely like routine. When we get up, we do have jobs that need to be done around the house and the property, especially with the animals and vineyard. But after those are done, it really all just depends on what time that is, what the weather is like, what we have already naturally decided to get distracted with, etc. Then decide whether we stay around home or we venture out and about to rivers, beach, bush or friends.
WHAT WITHIN YOUR WORK DO YOU NOT LIKE TO DO AND WHY?
I attempted to create something that resembles a filing system in the computer (sigh). I still have yet to come close to this.
DO YOU ACHIEVE “WORK/LIFE BALANCE”?
Haha, hell no! Virtually no aspect of either my work or my life seems to find balance, let alone work and life together!
WHICH PERSON DO YOU RESPECT MOST IN YOUR LIFE?
Oh man, so many people…so, so many people. I respect and learn so much from my kids every day, my husband, countless selfless humans whose stories I seek to read and hear about everyday.
WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST / MOST PAINFUL CREATIVE FAILURE TO DEAL WITH AND WHAT DID IT TEACH YOU?
I am not sure about this one. I have fucked up a lot of pictures over the years that much is sure. I guess I have learned from them—at least I’d like to say I have learned from all the mistakes. But truth be known, I have made the same stupid mistakes many times over before the learning even starts at times!
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING (OR HOPE TO BE DOING) 5/10 YEARS FROM NOW?
I feel like a lot of what I capture is the spirit of my kids childhood, but also of childhood in general. I would love to continue to capture that outside of my wee family.
I feel that photography is a gift. As cliché as I am sure this must sound, I have a real yearning to give this gift to others.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
ARE THERE ANY MANTRAS THAT YOU LIVE BY?
Not really, to be honest. I find new inspiration during the days that I read, but I don’t have one solid one.
IF YOU WERE NO LONGER ABLE TO USE A CAMERA, HOW ELSE WOULD YOU EXPRESS YOUR CREATIVITY?
I think the camera has taught me to be even more curious about all that is in front of me. So I think that I will always retain that in some way, and I would probably have to find some way to express that.
I would love to be able to write. But, quite simply, I struggle enormously with words. I would learn to sketch if I could. I have always been drawn to sketches—particularly those of the human form.
IF YOU ONLY HAD 24 HOURS TO LIVE, HOW WOULD YOU SPEND YOUR DAY?
Oh wow, that is a hard one. I would adventure first; mountain bike, trek up a mountain, something like that with my family. I would soak up time them and in a special part of the world as much as I could. Then go home and just to be in one place together. I would probably photograph as much of it as I could too.
HAVE YOU EVER DOUBTED YOUR TALENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU WORK THROUGH YOUR DOUBT?
Oh my word, YES! All the freakin’ time. ALL. The. Time. I put down the camera often and ask myself, “Why?” I walk away often thinking, “What am I thinking? I can’t do this.”
I inevitably find myself compelled to come back, to get shooting, shoot through the shit, and hope like heck I come out the other side again, somewhere.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE ASPECT OF OUR SOCIETY THROUGH YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
There is a children’s story we have here at our home that I read to my children often. It is about a ‘truth’ that gets broken apart. In the story, a few people find half of it, and on it it says “you are loved…” The people who have it are so happy to own it, but over time much jealousy arises among other people, and wars are built from this jealousy and misunderstanding. A small girl travels to far lands to question this reality that exists, and a wise old turtle looks down on the earth and decides that through this young girl that maybe the world and it’s people are ready to understand and accept the rest of the truth. She gives her the other half of the broken truth and it says “…and you are too.” I don’t think for a second that anything that I can do with a camera will change a society, but if I could spend time and make a few pictures that could help facilitate a mindset where we, as a people, can see that we all have our story, and that every one of our stories is worth telling— that we all have our place in this world and we are all loved.
If I could help even one or two people to see how valuable their story, their place, their contribution and their love is, that would be a great outcome.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Your favourite podcast(s)
Fav Music // Share a (Spotify) playlist
This question is too hard. So many musicians! My husband is a real music lover. He keeps me fueled with the most amazing artists.
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Can’t tell you how many times I have watched Almost Famous. I don’t even know what it is about the movie that I love. I am sure not everyone will love it, but it’s something about the characters. I am a huge fan of character-based movies.
Favourite book // A book you are currently reading?
Currently re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird
A website you regularly follow?
I don’t really browse websites too often. I can’t remember the last time I did.
Last place you travelled?
Top of the South Island of New Zealand—Wild Northwest coast, Wharariki Beach
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Oh this is hard. Probably Eugene Richards.
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
Not a favourite, but the last one I remember reading that moved me…
“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Sow them the joy of tasting tomatoes , apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
— William Klein
Not sure I have one. Depends a little on the season.
Favourite TED talk:
Not sure about a favourite one, but I still remember the very first one I ever listened to years ago (below).
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Oh I wish. There aren’t too many Galleries in my part of the woods.
Your favourite photography book?
This is a difficult one. Ones that I can look at over and over:
- “Cuba” Ernesto Bazan
- “Dorchester Days” by Eugene Richards
- “Family Love” by Darcy Padilla
- “Gypsies” by Koudelka
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
THANK YOU, NIKI!
You can see more of Niki Boon’s work here // Web
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