News | 10 May 2023
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Through the lens: The rewarding life of a city photographer

When renowned wedding photographer Nadine McGrath took on her role as photographer for the Wellington City Council, she had no idea how her world would be enriched.

A young female photographer holding her Canon camera as she looks past her blond wavy hair, as the city lights reflect onto glass behind her.

Having traversed exotic locations (like French lakes and coastal Croatia) to capture couples celebrating their big days, Nadine thought she had seen it all.

But she underestimated how much heart and soul she would find in photographing the places and people in her backyard of Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

“I feel like I used to walk around with my eyes closed,” she says. “This world is filled with countless vibrant experiences that I never really fully comprehended before. I knew that everyone had their own life, but I hadn’t really stopped to absorb and truly see that before.”

Nadine wakes up inspired every morning – excited about what the working day will bring.

“Every time I’m doing a photography job at council, I’m interacting with different community members, interacting in their world, and hearing their personal stories first-hand. They welcome me in and give me access to their world and trust me with their story – it’s really special. I feel like I’m getting more out of it than I could possibly give back to them. It’s giving me a richer lived experience, more than I could ever have imagined.”

She says another rewarding aspect of the role is being able to provide professional photography services to people and communities who may not otherwise have access to it.

And ensuring the captured history of the city is honest and representative of its people is something she is massively passionate about.

“I want representation across the board. I want everyone to have a chance to have their story be told – if they want it to be told – and I would like the representation to be well rounded.”

For some more insights into why Nadine loves her mahi as Wellington city’s photographer, see below, where she shares some of her favourite images and stories from photoshoots that were meaningful to her.

The vibrancy of life all around me

Every day in this job I am faced with the beauty and vibrancy of the lived experiences that surround me. Everyone’s lived experiences are so varied and unique. It’s mind-blowing when you really think about it.

Whether I’m photographing festivals like Matariki or A Very Welly Christmas, or simply daily normal life where everyone is doing their own thing, unique lived experiences are everywhere all of the time.

One example of this is when I was doing a stock photoshoot where I walked around the waterfront to capture the essence of summer in the capital. Every two metres there was a different group of people doing their own thing.

There were teenagers jumping off the wharf. Families picnicking on the grass. Friends riding crocodile bikes. Artists doing chalk drawings on the pavement. People reading in trees. Kids playing. Sunbathers on the beach.

Every two metres was a different lived experience. Recognition of this blows me away. Now I walk around way more present and aware of the different scenarios – the different stories that are constantly surrounding me. It’s magic!

There’s so much that goes on in this world that you have no idea about.

The waterfront photos aren’t the most mind-blowing photographs, it’s more about the experience of this job and how everyone is living a life and everyone’s current life forms a part of history. I find that a huge privilege in this job. I’m capturing history.

Photographing te ao Māori – an ‘incredible honour’

Another element of this role that I feel humbled to be able to do is capturing te ao Māori – capturing some stories of mana whenua.

There’s a lot of weight in being trusted to capture and tell their stories, and this is not something I take lightly. It’s an incredible honour.

One of my most memorable jobs was photographing Matahi Avauli Brightwell and his daughter Ariki Brightwell restoring Te Rauparaha pouwhenua at Tawatawa Reserve. The last person to photograph that pou was Ans Westra and her pictures are legendary. To be trusted and help in the process of documenting the journey is really incredible. It’s not an experience you just get to walk into.

Photographing the Seatoun Wharf dawn blessing was a privilege as well. I arrived at 5am in the rain. It was dark and windy, and so many people from the community had come out. I spoke with members from an ocean swimming group and a lady whose grandfather helped build the original wharf and heard first-hand how meaningful the wharf was to all of them and the community as a whole.

Capturing history: The capital in lockdown

Capturing lockdown was quite a life-changing experience. It was a one-off that I hope we won’t have to go through again, but I think it was really important that it was documented.

Storytelling is my passion, and history is the most incredible story of all.

It really is an amazing job. It’s about telling stories in a way that is honest to the people whose stories we are telling. And it’s really the people and the community that make it so rewarding.

In this role you are responsible for the curation of history, which is a huge project, and I work closely with the City Archive team to ensure history is captured and preserved for future generations.