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Capturing the moment

What happens when you give 18 students a camera for a week?

“Magic,” says photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, who spent a week with students from Whangara School as part of Through the Eye of the Lens, a photography programme run through Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

The students were asked to create stories from the natural environment by way of a viewfinder, with rocks becoming stars and seaweed turning into a picture frame.

Combining science and art, the class had a visit from Dr Daniel Hikuroa, a climate scientist from The University of Auckland, and Natalie Robertson, senior lecturer in art and design from Auckland University of Technology.

Both zoomed into the classroom via the internet (on account of being locked down in Tāmaki Makaurau) to detail the interplay between the environment and global heating, and explained how art can play a role in highlighting ecological changes.

Once the students had a solid foundation, they were let loose for a week with Bosch and fellow photographer Hiria Barbara.

Te Aroha Ihimaera Matete, 12, said the programme was not just about taking photos.

“As the day went on we learned that we weren’t just taking photos for the heck of it, but to show people what is happening to our planet.”

Students had to create stories about climate change through their photos, so they captured the ocean soaking up carbon dioxide, trees dying and land being reclaimed by rising sea levels.

Te Aroha said before they began the photography programme their teachers gave them a bit of background on the environmental impacts humans have had on the world.

The number of trees on the planet has a huge impact on climate change and human activity has put significant amounts of gas in the atmosphere, she said.

Through the Eye of the Lens is an artist-led project for young people by Track Zero, a charity aimed at inspiring climate action through artistic endeavours.

In collaboration with professional photographers, expert climate scientists, local communities and major art festivals, the programme and exhibitions elevate young voices that are often unheard.

Once five student projects are finished around the country, the images will come together for a grand exhibition in Wellington early next year as a free outdoor event.

Bosch said he was blown away by all the students.

“I’m privileged to be working with them and hearing their stories, seeing how they see the world and how they see our future.

“Although they are still at school, they know what is going on, what adults are doing, and even more importantly what those older than them are not doing to reduce the impacts of climate change,” Bosch said.

Before the programme started, 12-year-old Ariana Stuart was not excited to spend a week taking pictures.

“My friend was away so I thought it was going to be boring.”

Instead, she was empowered.

“We learned how to tell a story through our photos to send a message.”

Ariana focused her lens on the people and the land, highlighting the connection between the damage humans have had on nature and the effect this has on the next generation.

Part of the attraction for her was taking pictures of Whangara and spending more time focusing on the land where they live.

“I loved taking photos around here in Whangara and using our land to make a story about climate change and the kaupapa we have been learning about.”

Tina May Downs Campbell, 12, chose to point her camera on the ocean and its role in controlling global temperatures.

The ocean can absorb heat and carbon dioxide, but the sea is being overloaded with carbon, leading to ocean acidification as the PH level rises, Tina said.

NASA reports over the past 100 to 200 years, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic.

A more acidic environment can mean coral grows slower and weakens reefs that entire branches of biology rely on.

Research has shown seaweed may be able to reduce acidity in areas, which could help mussels grow, whose shells struggle in acidic oceans.

Quincee Chaffey, 11, draped the marine algae in front of his camera to frame his photos, looking at the Whangara coastline through the seaweed’s dangling blades.

Tawera Ehau, 10, doesn’t plan to take photography up as a career but will stick with the craft so he can capture the important moments in life.

“I will take pictures of the things you can only see once in a lifetime so I can savour the moments,” Tawera said.

Whangara School principal Lisa Maniapoto said the entire school are “buzzing” about the exhibition, which is showing at HB Williams Memorial Library as part of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

“The project strongly reinforced our vision of developing active kaitiaki (guardians) of our place and people,” Mrsa Maniapoto said.

Students were exposed to talented photographers who they could connect with and who taught them in-depth photographic skills, she said.

Through the Eye of the Lens is showing at the library with a selection of photos by the professional photographers who offered their expertise for the programme and photos from Whangara School students.

The exhibition runs from October 8 - 17, during the library’s usual opening hours.

INSPIRED BY NATURE: Whangara School students took part in the artist-led programme, Through the Eye of the Lens, which aims to inspire climate action. Picture by Te Rawhitiroa Bosch
WASHED AWAY: Through the Eye of the Lens is showing at HB Williams Memorial Library as part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival from October 8. Tawera Ehau is pictured capturing an iconic gumboot shot. Picture by Te Rawhitiroa Bosch
DEVELOPING SKILLS: Whangara School students Tina May Downs Campbell, left, and Pyper August were stoked to take part in the programme. Picture by Te Rawhitiroa Bosch