By Carly Dee
All photography by Niki Boon
Photographer Niki Boon lives surrounded by nature on a ten-acre property in rural New Zealand with her four children. All around them is natural beauty: bush, rivers, hills and coastline.
Niki grew up in a similar surrounding in the North Island of New Zealand with her three siblings. When they weren’t attending the local rural school they were free to spend their childhood roaming the farm. “I have wonderful memories of catching eels in the drains and making tree huts”.
It was these rich childhood memories which partially inspired her decision to raise her own children away from modern technology such as TV and electronic devices. This might seem unusual to some in this fast-paced, highly technological society but Niki replies “I believe my children are right where they belong covered in mud, running and living through nature”.
She documents their childhood using project titles such as “Wild and Free” and “Childhood in the raw”. In them we see four children interacting with nature and one another, the photographs are reminiscent of childhoods from the past. Their black and white style serves to highlight the wilds of the natural surroundings making them seem timeless and somehow wilder. The use of black and white, more traditionally reserved for static portraits contrasts with the life expressed by her children in the pictures. These elements work together to produce powerful and evocative images which draw the viewer in and perhaps question their own sense of freedom.
Niki travelled to Scotland when she was younger, it was while living and working there that she developed an interest in photography. “It was in the middle of a harsh Scottish winter when I did a course in the darkroom , I fell in love with the process of printing images , and then realized that I had to learn how to take a good image in order to be able to enjoy the process of printing them…so it was a back to front way to learn about photography…I spent a few months travelling around Europe photographing what appealed to me….but then didn’t pick up a camera again until I had my first child many years later back in New Zealand.”
Her style of documentary photography has been described as raw, honest and emotive. It is through these photographs of her surroundings and her children that we get a real sense of her photographic style. “I largely document our life here on our 10-acre property in New Zealand… most of the images are non-directed and non-posed, just life as it is, as I see it unfolding in front of me.”
While there is no such thing as a 'typical’ day in the Boon household, their day starts out quite similarly to other families. Usually starting with breakfast they go on to do their chores around the house and property and look after their animals. As the children are taught at home, the rest of the day is free and can be varied from day to day. Their day could be spent having an adventure at the river, bush or beach learning about their surroundings. It could also be spent reading indoors or working on their projects or just allowing their imaginations to run free outside. Although the children are raised without public schooling or technology, they are not isolated. They also travel into town for activities such as music, drama or sports where they interact with other children.
As the children grow older, Niki says that they are becoming increasingly aware of the camera but as it is so much part of their lives and their childhoods, it doesn't bother them. At this point her children haven't expressed an interest in technology and she does most of her work at night after they are asleep. This enables her to spend more time with them during the day.
We see the narrative of Niki’s family story through the lens of her camera. We see their natural curiosity and love of nature and their relationships with one another. Although she believes that her home life is perfect for her children and her family, she says that this lifestyle is not for everyone. “I think that ultimately everyone’s family circumstances are different ..and that every parent knows what is best for their children … for us ... this is the one that works best for us at this stage of our children’s lives.”
Niki photographs other people’s families too, using her signature documentary style in her commercial work. “I think that documentary photography is better lent to telling a family’s true story, who they really are. With documentary photography you shoot in their homes, with real interactions, capturing relationships between family members and between family and their land or home … more of their story I believe.”
She presents each of her children with a selection of the photographs she has taken on each of their birthdays. Even if her children choose to take a more urban path in the future, these photographs document their childhood which for now, remains unplugged.