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In conversation with Andrew Matautia

Andrew Matautia is a Wellington photographer who seeks to capture candid moments through his ethnographic photography practice. Born in Samoa, Andrew’s family migrated to New Zealand in 1988. Recently completing his Masters in Design Innovation at Victoria University School of Design, Andrew spends every moment observing and documenting the world around him.

Georgie Johnson: How long have you been practicing photography, and what got you into it?

Andrew Matautia: My father use to shoot on a Minolta SRT 101b back in the day, and he took that to every family and church gathering we ever attended, and I think that rubbed off on me throughout the years. So it has been something I have always been interested in, looking back at the things I have photographed I’ve just recently realised that I actually started shooting way back in 2007, taking photos for my brother’s wedding on a wee Sony Cyber-shot. I finally decided I would take it seriously in 2011 when I purchased my first DSLR. I just started teaching myself from there.

G: Why photography? What makes photography special to you as a creative?

A: I have a fine arts background in printmaking and drawing, so when I lost access to the print room photography became another outlet for me to creatively and freely express myself. Since picking up the camera it has been awesome to be able to tell cultural narratives through my lens.

G: A lot of your projects focus on indigenous culture. Tell me a bit more about this, why does it interest to you?

A: The majority of the research done throughout the Pacific has been done has been from a Western lens. I feel that approach has been subjective and has not told the stories of Moana people accurately and truthfully. So being passionate about my culture, I feel it is my duty to tell these stories about the Pacific from a Pacific lens. There have also been many cases where Pacific cultures have been misappropriated and I feel obligated to highlight these issues so people are aware.

G: In your series Cultural Appropriation you explore the appropriation of materials and objects. What were the ideas behind this project, and how would you say this is significant in society today?

A: I believe it is morally wrong when a global conglomerate benefits from indigenous cultures. If these global conglomerates were giving back to the cultures from which they are taking from and helping with the local economy then, yeah I would be marching out there with my pom poms. But all the profit goes back into their pockets and feeding their own bellies.

In 2013, Nike took inspiration from the Samoan traditional men’s tattoo and placed them on women’s leggings. This was culturally inappropriate and culturally offensive. In the Nike case, the Samoan community banded together and were able to stop the production of these leggings. In light of recent events and conflicts surrounding the new Disney film, Moana, I feel projects like this are very relevant. How can they continue to take and not give back? It is like colonialisation never really stopped.  

G: Your two projects La Flaneur and Gender Roles present an ethnographic approach where unstaged moments are documented and individuals are explored in their natural environments. Does authenticity play a role in your photography ethos?

A: I think to tell and document another person’s story in it’s truest form one has to be emotionally disconnected to an extent. You need to be able to remove yourself from any given situation that is happening around them in order to document these stories. But at the same time you have to be able to connect with the people you document. That is what I try to do in all my photographic research or visual ethnographic projects. Because, in my opinion this eliminates any personal input you might subconsciously place onto those narratives, you need to let the narratives speak for themselves.   

G: Does your commercial work present any conflicts or challenges with your art practice?

A: I think my commercial and personal practices work in tandem with each other. I have been able to use skills that I have learnt in both fields that compliment the other. My commercial work has given me the ability to have another platform from which to creatively express myself. This is most evident in the work I did for my thesis research, which I hope to make public in the very near future.

G: What has been the biggest challenge for you as a creative?

A: I think one of my biggest challenges is trying to stop myself from following trends and doing what others find ‘cool’. Because then you’re just gonna be another Cartier-Bresson. But a story like Vivian Maier motivates me to keep doing me. Another challenge is writing my own briefs to keep the creative work going because that’s the only way for me to stay motivated, and it can be very challenging when there is so much else to get done. So I want try and keep my personal work going as much as I can. And I feel I speak for a lot of creatives when I say this, but many of us live humble lives and sometimes, money can be hard to come by in order to support the creative work you want to do. So a lot of us work part time jobs to keep that hustle going which can be very challenging and also mentally straining.  

G: What are your plans or hopes for the future?

A: For any creative it’s to be established and create a name for themselves, which is what I hope to do one day. My biggest dream coming out of college was to own my own gallery, and I would love for that to come to fruition in the near future. Through this gallery I hope to help young up and coming Pasifika artists find their own voices within the creative world, but for now I will continue to document the world around me.


Image credits: Andrew Matautia, Tavai & Ofa, 2016 and Andrew Matautia, Masters Taualuga, 2016 (above).

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