Documentary series on Ihumātao land protest wins top award

By Jessica Tyson

Auckland-based photographer Qiane Matata-Sipu has won the Progear Photostory award at the 2018 New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year Awards for her six-image social documentary series about the land protest in Ihumātao.

The 33-year-old mother of Te Wai o Hua, Waikato-Tainui, Ngā Puhi and Cook Island descent says the win is extra special because the topic is close to her heart.

"This is my whenua, these are my people.  I have been documenting our whānau, our papakainga, and our marae for the last ten years," she says.

"So many photographers feel they need to go to far-flung countries to tell compelling stories.  The NZ Geographic Awards show us that some of our best stories are in our own backyards."

One of the award-winning photos of the series. See all six in the album below. Source: Qiane Matata-Sipu

Matata-Sipu says change is happening drastically in Ihumātao and winning the award will help to continue giving visibility to the stories and narratives.

"There is gross industrial encroachment as large factories swamp the landscape between the papakainga and the airport, and the designation of Special Housing Area 62 sees plans for a 480-dwelling housing development to be built in Ihumātao, critically affecting this unique settlement.

"These changes reflect what is happening to small communities around the country and the effect growth has on our society and environment."

Matata-Sipu credits her late grandparents for inspiring what has become a life-long storytelling goal.

"My nan Dawn and papa Joe told me stories about how much life, the environment, and their way of living had changed between their generation and mine.  It inspired me so much that I have made it one of my personal missions to document the changes taking place over my lifetime, both the people and the place."

Judges feedback

New Zealand Geographic Publisher James Frankham says Matata-Sipu's work is world-class and reflects the diversity in storytelling the magazine aspires to create a platform for.

"Qiane's photo-story on Ihumātao was one of the most exceptional pieces of work we've seen," he says.

"It was captured from the perspective of the protesters and benefited from exceptional access, but Qiane also brought intimacy and confidence to the story, giving an insight into the long and difficult struggle for mana whenua over this contended land.  The images were beautiful, poignant and powerful."

Upcoming project

The award is also much needed encouragement and validation for Matata-Sipu as she prepares to launch NUKU in early 2019 - a multimedia visual and storytelling series for and about 'kickass' indigenous women doing things differently.

Over one year, Matata-Sipu will photograph and interview 100 indigenous women across Aotearoa to document their stories and amplify their voices in an ever-changing society.