The Wairarapa region has dominated the competition at New Zealand’s premiere photography awards: with 11 artists bringing home more than 30 awards between them, including the coveted “Grand Master” title.
The 2022 Iris Professional Photography Awards, organised by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers [NZIPP], attracted close to 1500 entries from both sides of the Tasman — with the awards presented at a gala celebration in Nelson on August 15.
It was a particularly successful occasion for Masterton’s Amber Griffin, who received the gong for Professional Commercial Photographer of the Year — as well as the prestigious honour of NZIPP Grand Master of Photography, also known as “the elite white ribbon”.
Grand Master status, the highest of the NZIPP’s distinction levels, is awarded to those “who have shown a commitment to excellence in photography over a number of years”, and has only been presented to 22 artists — with Griffin being the youngest woman to receive the title.
Griffin also received an elusive Gold award for one of her prints — one of only 26 to be awarded this year.
Among the Wairarapa awardees were established photographers Esther Bunning and Sharisse Eberlein, who were finalists for Photographer of the Year in the Illustrative and Wedding categories, respectively.
Bunning added to the medal tally with four Silver with Distinction and four Bronze awards, with fellow Greytown local and long-time photographer Rebecca Kempton scooping nine awards [Silver Distinction, Silver and Bronze], plus the title of NZIPP Master of Distinction.
Also bringing home multiple awards were up-and-coming photographers Helen Smith and Courtney Norman, who won Silver and Bronze across the Illustrative, Nature, Portait, Landscape and Student categories.
Andrew Stewart also took out a Silver award in the Landscape category, and Belinda Pratt, Sarah Watkins, Karen Miller and Evan Davies all won Bronze across multiple disciplines.
Griffin said she was “absolutely elated” with both her and her fellow Wairarapa artists’ success — especially considering the stiff competition from the Australian entrants, which significantly upped the stakes.
“We were up against the real cream of the crop — and I think it’s beneficial for us Kiwis to be exposed to that,” she said.
“It’s always lovely to have that recognition from my peers and the industry. It’s a reminder that, as a photographer, I am on the right track and am producing at the highest level.”
She was particularly delighted with the judges’ feedback on her Gold award-winning shot: A portrait of former Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers Katherine and Joseph Skelton, who called into her Rangitumau studio on their way to Hawke’s Bay.
Griffin also made Katherine’s costume for the photograph — which helped accentuate the “freedom of movement” in her piece.
“Katherine said to me, ‘I’ve been a professional dancer for 13 years, and this is the most beautiful I’ve ever felt.’ ”
Among the emerging photographers to taste success at the Iris Awards is Carterton local Helen Smith, who took home two Silver and two Bronze awards.
“It’s a bit surreal,” she said.
“Getting constructive feedback from the judges has given me a more critical eye and encouraged me to take my photography to the next level. If people don’t tell you what they think of your work, you can’t get better.
“I’m quite a shy person, and it takes a bit for me to put myself out there — but this has shown me I can actually take some good photos!”