Features New Zealand Oceania Photo Essays

“I document, therefore I am” | Aotearoa by Hannah Colligan

By Hannah Colligan

A country known for its undeniable beauty, New Zealand evokes idyllic visual pallets of blue and green, golden sunshine and snow topped peaks. I soon realised that experiences in a new place traverse many deeper layers than merely admiring the landscape.

Aotearoa, a country of two islands separated by the Cook’s Straight, sits far away in the Pacific Ocean, and is often seen as the perfect escape. New Zealand is the other side of the world from my home in the UK and a solo six-month trip soon rolled over to ten.

I planned everything around volunteering on organic farms through the organisation WWOOF, which I had used the previous year to find a host in northern Italy. I leant to adapt; moving from place to place, living with families and learning to understand lifestyles and human condition. I quickly became part of a routine and shared a place at the table with families big and small.

They say you never really know someone until you live with them so, as you may imagine, the first days spent learning the rules and quirks of each individual home was particularly intense. The pace was often fast. Learning the names of six children or trying to spot an almond amongst autumn leaves, for the first hour was comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. There often wasn’t much time to untangle my own feelings; the buzz and rush of information hurtled from all angles meant my journal was often filled with simple lists of what I had for dinner to reintroduce a bit of order.

“I document therefore, I am” coined by curator and journalist Alain Bieber, comments on digital identity and the ego, a topic which I studied during my degree in photography. Moving away from the self-obsessive norm in the UK to New Zealand, I found the subjects who now sat for me focused less on the outcome of the image, and as meaningful relationships formed, the presence of the camera began to diminish.

Adopting a complete change of lifestyle transformed my fascination in the virtual, to falling in love with the rural, unrefined and unfamiliar people and moments which unfolded before my lens and I. In this collection of images, I wanted to show the mellowed ego of other travellers, the warmth shown from the hardworking families I stayed with and the moments in between, where time allowed me a brief flux for contemplation.

The best– only way to experience a new place is through its people.

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Visit Hannah’s website or check her out on Instagram for more documentary and conceptual photography.

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