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July 17, 2018

An Ageing Land of the Long White Cloud | Jiguang Shen | BFA Photography 2019

by Jiguang Shen

Kia ora koutou katoa! This weekend marks the end of my first three weeks back in New Zealand working with Age Concern New Zealand. It’s been a fantastic start to my fellowship so far and I’ve barely had a moment of respite as I travel across to New Zealand to meet, interview and photograph Kiwis (a nickname for New Zealanders) across the country.

In the first week I travelled to New Zealand’s capital Wellington to meet with the entire Age Concern New Zealand national team and learned about the challenges facing older New Zealanders. It was an eye-opening experience as I spoke to each of the team about how loneliness and elder abuse were two of the biggest problems that government policy makers and support systems couldn’t directly address. New Zealanders can lose their independence as they get older and as a result their ability to travel to meet and socialize with their friends and family can be extremely diminished. This can especially be the case in smaller towns and rural areas where public transport and/or taxi services are limited.


One of the wonderful participants Shirley Arbuckle-Hart from New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast with her dog Aimee

To address this Age Concern New Zealand offers an Accredited Visiting Service where vetted volunteers from the community are paired with older Kiwis that would like more social contact. The regular weekly visits mean that those participating can have more social engagement and be more connected to the communities that they live in. While this may be something that many of us take for granted, social connection is vitally important for human beings and it can be distressing if you aren’t able to get regular social engagement.

Elder Abuse and Neglect is another issue that is so often under reported and left undiscussed by our society. Both loneliness and elder abuse is a global problem and New Zealand is no different. Age Concern receives over 2,200 referrals of elder abuse each year and many more are estimated to go unreported as many of the abusers can be close family members. It’s a complicated and important issue and only more discussion and public awareness will lead to a reduction of elder abuse cases.

In the second week is when I began to gain some momentum in finding Kiwis over sixty-five that were happy to be interviewed and photographed as part of my investigation into aging in New Zealand. I was able to meet Shirley Arbuckle-Hart and Peter Ward from the Kapiti Coast and it was fantastic to hear about their lives and the rich stories that they all had to share. They were both great sports in letting me take their portraits.


Another fantastic  participant Peter Ward jamming away from New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast

At this stage I have begun my sessions by first conducting recorded interviews about each participants lives, where I ask them to recount the rich memories and stories they all have. These interviews will go towards supporting the images I make and give each participant a literal voice and platform to contextualize the images of themselves and tell their stories. Once I get to find out more about them and they can in turn find out more about me, I work with each one to have as much participation as possible in creating what I like to call non-candid portraits. These portraits are where each individual will decide what they will be wearing, where they will be photographed, what and whom they might be photographed with in an effort to bring more of their individual personality and identity into the image. I guess in a nod to the history of portraiture before the advent of photojournalism and the unblinking candid style of documentary spurned on by that period, I hoped that a viewer might be able to use these signifiers such as location, costume and objects to learn more about the person behind the photograph.


A little behind the scenes look through the viewfinder of my Twin Lens Reflex camera that I’m using for the fellowship

In the subsequent visits to see each of the individuals I hope that I will be able to not only create these non-candid portraits but to also follow each of them as they live their lives to capture the more candid moments in their lives. I hope that through the combination of interview, portraiture and candid photography I will be able to better represent these Kiwis over 65 with their unique stories. After a great start I am looking forward to meeting more amazing New Zealanders and I’m off across the Cook Straight to the South Island’s, Nelson next week!

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