There’s no way around it, our world is dominated by electronic devices. In these days of the super computers in our pockets we call cellphones, as well as tablets, smart watches and the countless other gadgets which make up the Internet of Things, one mother is taking things back to basics.
In an ongoing project, New Zealand photographer Niki Boon has been documenting the almost technology-free lives of her four children in a stunning black and white photography series, Childhood in the Raw.
DIYP caught up with Niki to chat with her about her photography, life and her children.
Having previously spent some time living in Scotland, Niki told us how she started in photography, and what got her hooked.
My initiation into photography started whilst working as a physiotherapist through a particularly dreary Scottish winter where I took a dark room course for something to do in the dark evenings and weekends.
The appeal for me was instant, as I fell in love with the magic of both the art and the science of the picture making process from start to finish. I became and am still obsessed with the power of a photograph, by how an image can move you inside… the pure magic beholden within.
I think many of us become obsessed with photography for similar reasons.
I spent the next 4 years travelling and working in foreign countries and relished seeing the world through my lens in my time off.
My photography ceased completely on returning to New Zealand (no access to darkrooms) and only with the birth of my first child did the same passion re-emerge.
While Niki’s photography took a bit of a break for a while, the birth of a child is always a big motivator to get started again. Niki’s children are currently 6, 8, 11 & 12 years old, but how long has the Children in the Raw in its current state been going on for?
This project has been an ongoing project simmering away slowly for the last 3 years or so, it has evolved as our direction of our choice of education for our children has also evolved from one that we originally thought was going to be a more conservative approach to a more child led and flowing style.
We asked Niki what inspired her to turn images of her children into a photography project in the first place.
I guess I started like all devoted mothers do, with photos of our babies and to document who they become as they grow.
I think it was with our decision to educate our children alternatively that documenting our days took on a whole new direction, meaning and sense of relevance for me.
Taking an unconventional approach to our children’s education and our lifestyle has been a journey with many questions, both from others and from ourselves, about what we are doing and why.
And the photographs helped me to reflect on what we were doing with our days, the learning that was actually taking place, and the joy and happiness our children were experiencing. The more I photographed the more I was able to see this , and the more I could capture what it was I was seeing.
But I wanted to also explore what childhood is, and what it is to grow up and for this reason I choose to also show images which may depict the loneliness and solitude of childhood, the pain and hurt that is also experienced, I didn’t want to shy away from the less joyful aspects of the journey.
One can tell by looking at the photographs, that Niki’s children are very comfortable being photographed, but given their lives sheltered from technology, how do they react around the camera, if at all?
My children are so used to having the camera around now, that they react very little to it.
I generally captured play as it unfolds, and they are oblivious to the camera mostly… they just focus on what they are doing. Occasionally I might ask them to do something again, or hold it for just a second, and they will sometimes get a bit frustrated with this, which is a reminder to me to back off.
It seems that Niki’s experience in this respect is one that many photographer parents can relate to!
Shifting focus a little towards the equipment, Niki told DIYP that she shoots digital this time around. We asked her about the equipment she uses, and how her children react to a digital workflow given their lifestyle.
Unfortunately with all the busyness of managing land,animals,children it is a real challenge for me to return to using film right now. But I still have all my film cameras , and they do come out time to time. I hope to be able to go back to them in time.
The majority of my editing is done at night, after the children are in bed, and occasionally during the day. They are all aware of how I edit my images and that the computer is used… they know it is Mama’s ‘work’
Niki uses minimal post processing on her images, preferring to capture as much in-camera as possible.
My post processing is extremely simple, I am no photo shop guru. I use Lightroom only and my black and white conversion is also very simple. I often start with a VSCO preset and then tweak it to my liking with the sliders and tone curve.
Working digitally with a more modern workflow has the obvious advantage of speed, but balancing life, raising and educating four children while running such a large photography project must still be quite challenging. DIYP asked Niki how often she gets to shoot and add to the project.
My camera sits on a bookshelf in our main living area, ready for when the urge strikes or if I see something interesting happening (especially if it is happening in amazing light). It is not everyday , but I if I look hard enough I can find something to shoot on many days.
I challenged myself to shoot everyday for a while..and I found I was shooting the same things over and over… Sucked the joy out of doing it… so I was forced to look harder at what I was shooting and see things differently.
The more I shot the more I realised what my ‘style’ was. The more I learnt about what I liked in terms of subject, composition etc. the more I was able to position myself better to capture what I saw in my head with the frame in my camera.
Having said that I feel I am still very much an amateur in this respect, so many mistakes made all the time, and many many opportunities lost over and over.
No matter how many years I spend with a camera, I still go through that myself, as I’m sure most of us do.
While Niki is very passionate about photography herself, we were curious about her children and photography, other than being the subjects of it, and if they’ve expressed an interest to get more involved with mum’s side of the camera.
Not yet. My daughter loves to look at the few photography books of others that I have been accumulating slowly, and has shown some interest in the possibility of collaborating in a project together, hopefully.
My two sons love the idea of capturing video, for them it is all about the movement, but so far they just involve themselves in the fun of creating plays and scripts and playing them out in various places on our property.
We obviously see the results of Niki’s project online, through her website and various social media platforms, but how do her children react to the images themselves? Do many of them get printed?
They have very little interest in seeing the images on the back of the camera screen to be honest. They are too busy living in the moment than being particularly interested in what has just happened.
I am very passionate about the printed image…to me it holds a depth that an image on screen just does not have…and so I print most of the images I make and have them printed into photobooks in our bookshelves for them to access when they choose
On their birthdays I always print a selection of photos from the year gone by, and we all enjoy looking at all the places we have been the adventures and milestones we have had.
They all have photo boxes to keep these in… but as I said, they really don’t pause to reminisce too long. They much prefer to live in the present.
A project like this is obviously going to come to an end at some point. The children are going to grow up, and want to leave and make families of their own. Will this project continue until that day happens?
I guess there will be an end date, and I am picking it will come before I am ready for it.
But I will continue to add to the project, and foresee that it will evolve as they do.
I can’t help but think that there may well be an end point before they leave home, and it will be obvious to me when that happens.
I have got an ongoing personal project with my eldest daughter ‘On being 11’ documenting just what it is for to be on the cusp of childhood and the next stage of her youth. But it is just a very personal project at this stage.
And what comes next? Or will that bridge just be crossed when Niki gets to it?
For the future, I am not sure, I will work hard to stay curious and keep my eyes open to all around me and just see what the universe presents.
Niki, thank you so much for your time and generosity. It was a pleasure to talk with you, and learning about your work. We wish you the very best for the future of this project, and seeing how it evolves in the years to come.