A Hangi in Belgium

I thought I could be tough on what was 'good enough' with this documentary-style series capturing the Hangi. But I'm finding that I want to include almost everything because all the photographs seem important to the story.

I realised that it's not just about cooking food in the ground, it's about the community that forms as people work together. And it was about the people who came and went during the process - it was kind of tidal, with different folk appearing at different stages.

But most of all, it was about the people who worked on it - those on a tour who saw help was needed and climbed into it with their experience from 'back home in NZ', with their strength, despite wearing boat shoes or white sneakers.

In the end it was all about the feeling surrounding the process ... it was quite staggeringly beautiful.

At the moment, I'm not sure one photograph captures it all. It's a story to be told with many photographs.


I photographed a first communion celebration yesterday, out on Flanders Fields and I'm delighted with what I captured.  I blame the family.  They're entirely inspirational.

When I photograph any kind of family event, my objective is to tell the story of the people involved, to capture them as they are, interacting, loving, simply being themselves.

This is Steven, one of the nicest Belgian's I know.  And he has a most beautiful family.

Last night, as I downloaded and viewed the images captured from a day where his son's milestone was celebrated, my soul sang.  It was a good day.

Etel Adnan, a Remarkable Woman

Etel Adnan was born in 1925 and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. Her mother was a Greek from Smyrna, her father, a high ranking Ottoman officer born in Damascus. In Lebanon, she was educated in French schools.

She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris. In January 1955 she went to the United States to pursue post-graduate studies in philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard. From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California.

Based on her feelings of connection to, and solidarity with the Algerian war of independence, she began to resist the political implications of writing in French and shifted the focus of her creative expression to visual art. She became a painter. But it was with her participation in the poets’ movement against the war in Vietnam that she began to write poems and became, in her words, “an American poet”.

In 1972, she moved back to Beirut and worked as cultural editor for two daily newspapers—first for Al Safa, then for L’Orient le Jour. She stayed in Lebanon until 1976.

In 1977, her novel Sitt Marie-Rose was published in Paris, and won the “France-Pays Arabes” award. This novel has been translated into more than 10 languages, and was to have an immense influence, becoming a classic of War Literature. In 1977, Adnan re-established herself in California, making Sausalito her home, with frequent stays in Paris.

In the late seventies, she wrote texts for two documentaries made by Jocelyne Saab, on the civil war in Lebanon, which were shown on French television as well as in Europe and Japan.

Extract, the website of Etel Adnan 

Searching for information about Etel Adnan also led me into an interesting world that left me wanting to stay and read a while.  And there was another book too, Sea and Fog.

I took this photograph of her at the TASWIR Exhibition.  I was off to one side, taking photographs while she was interviewed.

My camera was filled with interesting people during those months on the project.

A little more on documentary photography

I wanted to come back to documentary photography once more and just say, never stop watching.  For me, it's a little like hunting ... perhaps. 

I don't go in with a plan beyond the attempt to capture the story.  To tell it true.  I picked up a 3-day documentary shoot, over on Flanders Fields, working with the New Zealanders a few years ago.

The image that follows is one of my favourites and I have to confess, it really was about swinging round and capturing this exquisite moment without thinking too much about settings.  A hongi ... a Maori greeting, was being exchanged. 

I had been traveling in France with the New Zealand veterans the day before and so they knew me a little. The New Zealand London Rugby Club were playing a commemoration match in Zonnebeke. 

Moments like these make documentary photography a big love of mine ...



On Documentary Photography ...

Her photographic work is magnificent and I love her presence: her portraits are stunning, they expose intimacy, humor, and pensiveness; her photographs capture the space, the movement, human interaction deliciously, in a way that one feels invited to an event long after it disappeared from the public scene.

In all her unobtrusiveness when working with the camera, Di is great fun to hang out with, the artists, scholars, thinkers, curators of our Berlin exhibition highly appreciated her, and when working together in Cairo, Istanbul, Berlin, or wherever else, I enjoy her kindness, humor, and delightful presence.

Shulamit Bruckstein, Curator, director of TASWIR projects / ha’atelier

Shulamit wrote this after a series of projects together and, in so many ways, lays out what I want to achieve as a documentary photographer.

I believe I need to be unobtrusive, invisible ... disappearing into the moment I have been asked to capture.  At the same time I believe that there are going to be people I need to engage with.  It's about building trust, if there's time.  It's about being respectful - I want people to enjoy my work afterwards. 

I prefer to wear dark clothes and quiet shoes.  I carry cough drops and tissues.  Nothing about me should stand out or distract people from the event.  I don't make eye contact when I move around ... unless I need to or unless I find a 'favourite'.  A favourite is someone who embodies something of atmosphere ... the event.  And there is always someone.

I love my flash.  It's a Canon Speedlite 580EX II and over the years we've become good friends.  I know how to twist and turn it, to bounce light and avoid shadows.  I work with my favourite lens most of the time, a  Canon EF 70-200mm 1:4L.  Some people get hung up on the latest equipment but I simply love whatever works for me.  This lens is my baby.  Attached to my Canon 5D Mk II ... it's magic.

I prefer to zoom because it allows me to stand back, on the edges, while still getting up close and personal without people realising that it's all about them.

Documentary photography ... unobtrusiveness, respect, the building of trust, connections, communication.  It's all of that and more.  I love it.