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Griffin mixing it with the big shots

Amber Griffin’s photograph of New Zealand dancers Joseph and Katherine Skelton,- which helped win her Commercial Photographer of the Year at the Australian Photographic Prize competition. PHOTO/AMBER GRIFFITH

It’s been a big year for Masterton-based artist Amber Griffin.

After having been a finalist in the “Olympics of photography” and bestowed with one of the highest honours for New Zealand photographers, Griffin has now beaten out some of the “heavy hitters” of the transtasman scene, taking home two of the top accolades for the 2022 Australian Photographic Prize.

The inaugural awards ceremony, open to photographers throughout Australasia, was held in Melbourne earlier this month, with Griffin receiving the gongs for Commercial Photographer and International Photographer of the Year.

She also did well in the portraiture category, with four of the five images landing her in the running for Portrait Artist of the Year, and one print gaining one of the highest judges’ scores across the competition.

On top of that, she has been awarded the title of Wellington Photographer of the Year, taking home the trophy, made by my fellow Wairarapa photographer Terry Hann, for the second time.

Griffin is best known for her expressive and dynamic dance photography, featuring dancers from top New Zealand companies, including the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Earlier this year, her piece “The Blue Dancers” was a medal finalist in the 2022 World Photographic Cup, receiving the title of “Best of Nation” – best of the images submitted by New Zealand photographers – in the commercial category.

In August, Griffin was named Commercial Photographer of the Year at the New Zealand Institute of Photography [NZIPP] Iris Awards and was also the youngest woman to receive the prestigious title of Grand Master of Photography, the highest of the NZIPP’s distinction levels.

She said her awards from the Australian Photographic Prize were particularly gratifying  as New Zealand photographers tend to be the underdogs going into Australian competitions.

“There’s some incredible talent over there – such a high calibre of work,” Griffin said.

“As a Kiwi, I must admit it’s satisfying to win against Australians especially in Australia!

“In all seriousness, entering awards can be addictive. You set the bar a lot higher for yourself and it pushes you to take your work to the next level.

“You strive for more, and that produces better photography.”

Griffin said was particularly thrilled with the judges’ feedback on her photography “Kintsugi Mother”, a self-portrait taken while pregnant with her youngest child, which she had never before submitted to a competition.

She said her pregnancy was “hideously painful”, so the portrait incorporated styling inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi [repairing pottery with gold lacquer] to capture both her feelings of brokenness and inner strength.

“I definitely didn’t feel like doing a happy, positive maternity shoot! The photo reflects the reality of pregnancy for me.

“The judges said they were really moved. They understood exactly what I was trying to portray.”

Griffin, a former ballet dancer, started her career from a small photography studio in Upper Hutt, offering free portraits for dance studios.

She has gone on to win multiple Iris Awards, gold and silver medals at the World Photographic Cup, and top placements at the WPE International Photographers Awards for her experimental photographs of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Griffin relocated to Masterton in January and now works from her home studio at Rangitumau.

“I am finding the country life nourishes my creative soul. It makes such a difference not waking up to the sound of traffic every morning!

“The peaceful sounds of nature and the wide open spaces certainly provide a nurturing environment for my creativity.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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