Jan is a NZIPP Accredited Professional Photographer based in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.
I am born and bred in Auckland, I can’t remember when I wasn’t drawing or painting, and I had a camera from an early age. I have vivid memories of sitting at sports events with my pen, ink and folder, and yet I still participated, winning cross country, playing basketball and football. I just scraped into Elam, where I studied different media in the first year, and I discovered photography … the spontaneity of it, a way of recording everything, an instant sketchbook and I left my pencils and paint behind. I could capture ideas and images so fast. I loved black and white, grain, travel, people. I loved to record life with images and words.
My mentor, John B Turner, encouraged the use of words. How words and imagery can work together still fascinate and inspire me. My two biggest keepers from him was a) to store negatives wisely and record accurate information regarding them, and b) to really see.
Through Elam I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to Focus on New Zealand, where I met Brian Brake and Ernst Haas, two of my early influencers, along with Ansel Adams and Paul Caponegro. I loved the mystical spiritual qualities and the delicacy of the prints.
After University, I worked freelance shooting for local newspapers, and then travelled for a couple of years. In 1988 I left New Zealand with a ticket from Auckland to Singapore, a ticket from Bangkok to Rome, a journal and my camera.
I’m not the most outgoing person, but I have a desire to connect and my camera helped me to bridge that gap. It opened doors that I would never have knocked on and enabled me to have the most incredible experiences. I mentioned to a Thai novice monk that I wanted to photograph a Thai village and he organised for me to visit his village just south of the Laos border … 12 hours on an unconditioned bus overnight and then a two hour walk through snake infested bush. The villagers had never seen a foreigner and stroked my arms and hair. I stayed for weeks, and from there was invited to stay with a teacher and travel into the heart of Thailand on a school sports trip. I showed those photos to a White Karen Hill Tribe guide in Chang Mai and he invited me to stay with his family. I remember sitting in the window writing in my journal while elephants walk past. I ‘worked’ as an interpreter on the treks and just had to pay for my elephants and rafts. At Dan Sai I stayed with a different family every night. In Italy I enjoyed the cathedrals and hitchhiked from Rome to Brindisi. In Greece I worked in a hotel in the morning and restaurant in the evenings and slept between two boulders in the camping ground. In Turkey I stayed with Iranian refugees I met at the bus stop, and spent days playing backgammon and drinking Turkish tea.
And all the time I took photographs and wrote my journals. They were a treasure I dared not consign to the postal service, and in effect the weight of them was the reason I eventually came home.
I processed them. I filed them. I won awards with them. I stored them.
At Iris last year, I was staying with my oldest daughter in Wellington, and I got on the wrong bus and decided to have a bit of a ticky tour up the coast. Had a lovely chat with the driver and arrived at Ashleigh’s an hour or two later than expected. When it was time to leave she took me to the airport so I wouldn’t get lost. I said to her “I have travelled around the world by myself you know!” and her reply … “Yes but you are old now!”
Hence my newest project…. 30 years on and I am excited about revisiting my photos and journals and creating a book of my travels. The chance to relive that period of my life journey through older and more experienced eyes is seductive, and the book will be a combination of photos, journaling and reflection.
When I returned to New Zealand, I began shooting more and more portraits and weddings. I continued with freelance photography and writing, I waited tables. I did track work at Pukekohe race course, and I did the accounts for a few companies. This stood me in good stead for having my own business. I understood the financial side of things.
In 1992 I was offered a job breaking in horses in Hokkaido, Northern Japan, for a year, and went for it. With my camera and a new journal. I happened to photograph one of the owners riding a filly I had broken in for him and offered to send him the photos. When he learned I was heading home the following week he offered to change my tickets so I could stay in Los Angeles with two of his employees and I got to spend a couple of weekends in Las Vegas!
If I have learned one thing it is take whatever opportunity is offered. Jump in with both feet. And take my camera.
Meeting Harry Janssen and being mentored and encouraged by him has been a turning point in my career. It was Harry who sponsored me to NZIPP, who supported me in my accreditation, and cultivated my desire to use the Iris Awards to grow and expand my skills.
NZIPP gave me a supportive peer group, a community, and access to training and skills. It has always been important to me to upskill, to learn, to be a better person, a better business woman, a better photographer.
I continued to work various jobs to make ends meet until I felt confident that my photography could sustain me. My biggest challenge was always, and still is marketing myself. If I had it all over again I would skip university and go to work for a photographer I respected, to learn the ropes and establish connections that way.
Over the years I have participated in many workshops …. Jerry Ghionis, David Beckstead, Heather Waraksa, Sue Bryce, Tracey Scott, Tony Bridge …. Always with the intention that if I learn one thing it was well worth it, and it was always up to me to find that one thing!
Pick your specialty. Then pick your mentor. When weddings became my main focus, I spent a week with Jerry Ghionis in Melbourne and it was the height of upskilling … I learned business tips, posing tips, lighting tips, wedding tricks, organisational tips, how to treat people tips, how to be the person I wanted to be, how to be an outstanding wedding photographer and how to be an amazing human being. Life skills.
While Jerry Ghionis’ workshop was the epitome for professional development, Tony Bridge’s ‘Innerlight’ workshop at Waikaremoana was the same for personal development, where we used photography to look inside ourselves. Where Tony had us really look at our land and surroundings and how we see the world around us, and how we interpret our images and why we take them. I was also fortunate to connect with Tracey Scott beginning a life long friendship.
I love the variety and connection working with people and pets, and Wedding and Portrait Photography paid my bills, but it was being asked to photograph the Kaimanawa Wild Horses during the annual musters that was most rewarding. The early mornings, the frost and cold, were nothing compared to seeing our national horse in the wild, to seeing the people who cared trying to save as many as possible, and the indescribable sight of helicopters bringing in horses from the ranges gently. A generous gesture from a pilot on my birthday saw my wishes answered as I got to shoot an award winning aerial of the horses, hanging out the side of a chopper … silver at NZIPP Iris and shortlisted for the Sienna International Drone Photo Awards.
I am inspired by beauty wherever I find it, in nature, in colour, in light, in abstract forms. I am inspired by my girls. I am inspired by experiencing the Iris live judging. I am inspired by life. Currently I am working on another book around portraiture and the words people use to describe themselves and the world they live in and experience.
Amanda asked what my favourite photo is. It is a photo of my two girls by Tracey Scott, however, I don’t think that is what she really meant. For my work personally, it is the photos of my family that are truly close to my heart, and it is my art photography, and the documented work I have on Harness Racing, Farming in New Zealand, and the Kaimanawa Wild Horse musters that mean the most.
I am lucky enough to be based in rural Onewhero with my best friend, horse, dog and cat. My girls are at University and visit often, and I split my time between home, Wellington and our Whananaki Patiki Sanctuary. My life has come full circle and I am concentrating mostly on my art photography, painting, drawing and ceramics. Regular outings with other photographers is a great way to keep photographing and stay connected. The new Expressive category at Iris is exciting and seems designed for me.
I have the time to spend the days of Iris Online judging in Rotorua supporting the Honours Team. Volunteering to help at the Iris Awards is a really good way of learning more about the process, being involved and meeting people. If you ever get the chance go for it. It will challenge you and give you a better understanding of what is involved in our awards system.
Photography has been the one constant in my life journey. It has been the beginning of so many opportunities, it has opened doors, it has opened my eyes to seeing the beauty in the world we live in, it has given me a unique perspective and I am so grateful.
Looking back over my career, there have been so many highlights – being printed in Magazines, winning the North Shore Salon, Franklin Arts Festival, Body Art Awards, Wearable Arts Awards, Iris Awards, but the stuff that really matters is the heartfelt appreciation when a client picks up their book or their album or their portrait.
There are no words to describe the feeling of satisfaction and gratification, that this simple gift I have, can enrich another person’s world and enhance their memories and their imagination.
I am a storyteller. And I illustrate my stories with pictures and words.