Success! Ahhh, the magnetism of that word. Nine times out of ten it’s accompanied with an exclamation mark, or in written form with at least a satisfactory flourish on the last ‘s’. The sweet sound of it is enough to relieve even the most extreme cases of performance anxiety. Success, however, is not necessarily easy to attain, and quite frankly I don’t think it should be. Often the most defining lessons of our lives arise from failure and disappointment, the poignant memories of our non-achievement being the catalysts for self-improvement. Passion, goals, hard work and dedication are all part of the process – success is a marathon and not a sprint.
Here in New Zealand, we take pride in the many successful kiwis that have made their impact upon the world. For being such a small country, we rate surprisingly high on the international stage, punching well above our weight. What is it within us that makes us capable of such achievement?
Our own English born but kiwi at heart Sir Ray Avery sought to understand what it is that makes kiwis so special in his most recent collaborative investigation, The Power of Us. Teamed with award-winning journalist Cameron Bennett and renowned photographer Adrian Malloch, the thick, three hundred page biographical masterpiece documents the secrets of success of fifty highly regarded New Zealanders.
The book is beautiful, filled with Malloch’s stunningly honest black and white portrait photographs of each interviewee. From Rhys Darby to Mai Chen, Mahe Drysdale to Neil Finn, each story is unique to the individual and yet at the same time inherently similar.
Photos sourced from Publisher: Random House NZ
In an ironic turn of events I found myself being able to sit down and interview Adrian Malloch about his involvement in the project, although he wouldn’t allow me to take his picture.
What inspired you to become a part of the project?
To be honest it was too cool not to do. I got to meet some amazing, interesting people. I find that people’s passion reflects their depth, and that to me shows that there is a need for their story to be told. The opportunity was a gift.
What do you think the purpose of the book is?
I like to think of my photography as postgraduate people watching. We’re trying to communicate an authentic message to the reader. To do that we really had to create intimacy with those being interviewed. I think this book breaks through putting people on a pedestal.
With that in mind, how do you see beneath the superficial? And how do you capture that through your photography?
It all comes down to perceiving a way to work with someone, really getting them to reveal themselves truthfully. Often that requires bluntness, and being authentic yourself. All media conceals the truth – television, Facebook, you name it. Whether someone is wearing makeup, or if the lighting is adjusted to make him or her look better, that flattery is concealment. Also smiling – it’s a primal bearing of the teeth! Smiling is a defense mechanism. I say be natural in the moment with whatever emotion you are feeling. You really have to care about what people want to show you to capture it accurately. Also you don’t want these people changing themselves in any way, I wanted to portray them as people would know them. In that sense they needed to show their strength, and their vulnerability – they’re inherently tied together. It was refreshing when they were comfortable in their own skin.
What was it like meeting so many influential and inspiring New Zealanders?
For me it was an eye-opener, they all seemed to speak of the same things that helped them on the road to achieving what they wanted - family, love, life, and creativity. They expressed a genuine quality. More than ever I believe that you should just follow your dreams, and in doing so identify and stay true to what it is that you can bring to the table.
What motivated people to share their story?
Arm-twisting by Ray Avery!
Do you think this book helped to capture some of the ambiguous ‘kiwi culture’?
I think kiwi culture is a voyage of discovery. This book basically asks the question, who are we now? It’s an honest documentation, and shows people (not just New Zealanders) that we are not just about rugby, or Maori actions. This book helps gives more perspective on what defines us.
Sir Ray Avery describes you as a ‘maverick’ of sorts, what does he mean by this?
I believe I’m a bit of a boundary rider. I don’t necessarily fight the status quo but neither do I stick to it – I’m always questioning, looking for creative ways of doing things. When I first came to Auckland I took a huge risk, I left my secure job to pursue freelance photography knowing no one - not even really knowing the industry. I followed my hopes and dreams and took a chance.
Is there something you would like to say to young people?
Surround yourself with people and ideas – be passionate about things you care about and advocate all areas – be open to change. Throw everything at it and know that you can change through doing that. Challenge things and be challenged. Travel as much as you can, and hunt down opportunities.
It’s a tad cheesy, but upon finishing the book and then interviewing Mr. Malloch, I came away feeling truly inspired. I would like to think now, writing this, that I am playing a part in Sir Ray Avery’s own vision coming true by communicating this to you. In his foreword he says,
“My hope is that it (The Power of Us) will inspire some young kid sitting in a library to think, I can do that.”
Granted, you are sitting instead looking at a computer screen, but the message is clear. To achieve anything you want you’re going to have to put in effort. Identify what you’re good at, prepare to be challenged, take a risk, and follow your dreams. The world is your oyster, so get out there and make things happen. And don’t forget your roots, my friend.
P.s. You’re welcome Sir Avery.