Integrity and authenticity aren’t just buzz words for my LinkedIn profile.
This blog post doesn’t need much of a catchy introduction tbh. I sat down with a coffee and some Cameo Cremes, and thought about the parts of my photography practice that I'm unable to compromise on.
1. Perspective and priorities
Put the people first.
I’ve observed trauma and grieving for all sorts of things when photographing. To learn about the situation around you, you check your ego at the door and understand there’s something much bigger in the room than just you and your camera.
Me telling someone’s story with my camera is not as important as the person who owns that story. Sometimes I have to put the camera down. And that’s ok.
God I'm A Mess, 2016, Copyright HJ Milne.
2. Reading the room
Engage the spidey-senses.
Photographers spend a lot of brain power on intuition to figure out what is going on around them. My ADHD spidey-sense is perfect for photography. I’m hypersensitive to subtle emotional cues from other people which becomes amplified in groups, and my brain registers all incoming sensory data - even the random irrelevant stuff. This is exhausting in everyday life, but when I have a camera around my neck it gives me a superpower which navigates me towards decisive moments, helps me connect and empathise with subjects, and keeps me safe.
Acknowledging this superpower and *buzzword alert* leaning into it is important to me and is something I’m learning not to apologise for.
3. Following the (important) rules
I’m not above the rules just because I have a camera.
Ok, so this is an interesting point. There are times when I’ve curved the rules when working:
When photographing a #FreeIranianWomen march in New Zealand (centre photo), photographing faces of participants may have implications for their families in Iran. Copyright HJ Milne.
Below are two examples of situations where I don’t break rules intentionally. Sometimes I make mistakes and I’m always learning.
Following Tikanga is important to me for practical reasons and as a Treaty partner of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Do I want to be invited back to take photos again? Yes. Will I learn more if I follow Tikanga? Yes. Do I think I’m special on a marae because I have a camera? Nope.
One part of Tikanga that directly impacts on my work is where I can access (depending on my connection to the Marae).
My photo tips for this situation:
The most important part of this is to have a conversation. I have a kōrero with the client about where I can stand, photographing during karakia, who will be there, and what the songs are. And yes, if I know the waiata and if it’s appropriate to do so, I’ll join in!
Welcoming guests at Te Rōhutu Whio in 2022. Although the official photographer, I was considered a guest and needed to follow protocol accordingly. Copyright HJ Milne.
Photographing disaster relief work
A natural disaster introduces fresh new environmental risks and a boat-load of collective emotional trauma to a situation. It’s not the time to be a Hero With A Camera, or push back against health and safety. Sticking to the rules when photographing disaster relief work gives me clear parameters to work within. This means I can work efficiently using best photographic practices, and still have brain power available for talking and empathising with people in the affected community.
My photo tips for this situation:
After Cyclone Gabrielle in New Zealand 2023, and Cyclone Jasper in Australia 2024. For Taskforce Kiwi. Copyright HJ Milne.
All of this boils down to remembering why I take photos in the first place. If I took photos to be famous or to become a billionaire, then the above points would be negotiable.
But that feels so wrong to me. I take photos because I want others to see how I see their stories and the world.
There’s a certain grace in letting go of the perfect photo because your integrity says no, and just keeping a memory in your head instead.
This blog shares tips and tricks for you to get involved with photography, and keeps you up to date with my exhibitions and shenanigans.