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Images dance into world cup

A Masterton-based artist is a finalist in the “Olympics of photography” for the third year running – putting Wairarapa creativity and New Zealand dance on the map.

Dance photographer Amber Griffin is again in contention for a medal at the World Photographic Cup [WPC]: And stands to beat out photographers from [among others] the US, France and Japan for the top prizes in two different categories.

Two of Griffin’s images have landed her among the top 10 finalists in the Commercial and Illustrative Portrait sections, with her commercial shot earning the title of “Best of Nation” – the highest-scoring entry submitted to that category by New Zealand photographers.

Her “Best of Nation” image captures the movement and dynamism of two dancers from the Royal New Zealand Ballet [RNZB] – and was taken at her home studio at Rangitumau.

This year’s WPC, the premier international competition for professional photography, featured teams of photographers from more than 30 countries, competing across eight categories.

Griffin is one of only two New Zealand finalists– veteran Hawke’s Bay photographer Richard Wood has made the top 10 in the Illustrative Portrait and Illustrative/Digital Art categories.

This is her fifth time as a WPC frontrunner: Winning Gold and Silver awards in 2015 and 2016, and receiving “Best of Nation” in 2021 and 2022.

Though Griffin hopes for a third medal, she is most excited to showcase “both Kiwi photography and Kiwi dancers” in the international arena.

“It’s an honour to be on the platform with the absolute best photographers in the world – and to represent the creative community here in Wairarapa,” she said.

“And it’s great to be able to shine a light on what our dancers can do. There’s a small clique of dancers that end up in all the marketing – so it’s been gratifying to profile those who fly under the radar, and give them the exposure they deserve.

“There’s so much talent in our dance community, and I’m privileged to work amongst it.”

Griffin started her career in a small studio in Upper Hutt – offering free portraits for dance studios, and going on to work with emerging and professional dancers around the country.

She met the subjects of her latest “Best of Nation” image, RNZB alumni Joseph and Katherine Skelton, at a magazine shoot – and the couple was so impressed with her work that they called into her Masterton studio on their way to Hawke’s Bay.

“They were amazing to work with,” she said.

“At first, Joseph wasn’t keen to be photographed – he hadn’t danced for a while, and thought he was a bit out of shape. We focussed on Kat, who was at the pinnacle of her career.

“So, Joseph provided a lot of the artistic direction. He’s got a great eye for detail, and had so many wonderful ideas.”

Eventually, Joseph was convinced to appear on the other side of the lens.

“As a husband and wife duo, they have such a lovely story – and we couldn’t not capture them together.”

She is similarly proud of her Illustrative Portrait entry: Featuring dancer/choreographer Tabitha Dombrowksi, wearing a headpiece Griffin made from dried flowers and leaves from a sadly deceased house plant.

“Tabitha moves so beautifully and has a real understanding of how her movements translate on camera.

“The dancers I photograph are always excited whenenver I do well in competitions – they get really invested!

Griffin hopes to add a WPC medal to the string of awards she has received in the last year alone: Including the title of Grand Master of Photography at the New Zealand Institute of Photography [NZIPP] Iris Awards, two top accolades for the Australian Photographic Prize, and first prize in the Creative Portrait category at the International Portrait Masters Awards.

Griffin is particularly thankful to her co-worker, Petone-based stylist Hil Cook, who did the hair, makeup and costuming for her WPC finalist images.

The final WPC results will be announced in Singapore on March 17.

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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