Nursing a creative mojo battered by the pandemic, a Wairarapa photographer found inspiration closer to home to produce some of the most powerful images of the year.
Esther Bunning, of Greytown, won New Zealand Professional Photographer of the Year at the Nikon Iris Professional Photography Awards, with a variety of “playful, original, and refreshing” entries.
She said, as with many in the creative industry, it has been a difficult year having to cancel several photographic workshops, and an artist-in-residency ANZAC project was put off.
“Our industry was slow to get started initially after lockdown, and my creative mojo was affected,” she said.
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Bunning said she wasn’t engaged to the same extent as other years with the whole awards process.
“And I didn’t even watch the online judging. It’s funny how things work out.”
The prestigious competition attracted an unprecedented number of entries this year with close to 3000 images to be judged, with submissions coming from as far afield as Canada.
Bunning won both the Creative and Portrait Open categories, plus the overall Photographer of the Year title.
“I feel incredibly honoured. It was totally unexpected and an incredibly exciting awards night – even though it was all featured online this year,” Bunning said.
New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography president Catherine Cattanach described Bunning as “a truly visionary photographer who is always pushing the creative boundaries, even in hard times”.
She said Bunning’s portfolio was “brimming with mood”.
“Her work is technically excellent, and at the same time challenges the viewer to look at photographs from more of an emotive and less of a literal perspective.”
The top six photographs from the three highest-scoring photographers across all categories were judged to find the overall winner.
The judges said Bunning’s photographs showed variety: from commissioned portraits of a teen with rainbows, to a Kaimanawa horse, to a photograph of an ANZAC trooper in her kitchen.
Bunning’s portraits of her teenage son during Covid times exploring emotions, isolation and tension, earned her a gold for this series.
All the entries are judged anonymously and this year, due to the pandemic, the judging was held online with both a preliminary round and then a live online-judging round spanning nine days.
The rotating panels of five judges included some of the most qualified and renowned local and international photographers.
The judges felt Bunning’s images showed a unique interpretation of the subject, that is introspective, flawless and quiet.
“Her work goes beyond having a literal translation and represents a photographer who is visionary, empathetic to their subject, and has great command of the emotional aspects being portrayed.
They also described her work as “playful, original, and refreshing”, saying it was clear that the work was created by an artist who thought outside the box.