Rural Week NZ

Photos of Growing Up Wild and Free in Rural New Zealand

Without formal education, the paddocks, bush and beach become classrooms.

by Laura Rodriguez Castro
31 May 2017, 3:40am

Self-taught photographer Niki Boon has lived almost all of her life in the countryside of New Zealand. Drawing inspiration from he upbringing in the country, Niki has photographed her four kids as they grow up wild and free playing and learning from the land. As a family, they have decided to homeschool their children and these photos are a testament of the natural curiosity that rural landscapes inspire.

VICE: Tell me about your upbringing in the countryside?
Niki Boon: It was in the Bay of Plenty in the North Island of New Zealand. We grew up in a big family farm, running around and going wherever we wanted. We had drains we used to fish out of, paddocks, big trees and orchards.

How do you think living in the countryside has impacted your kid's lives?
They probably won't know how lucky they are until they look back and I hope my photos will help them with that. One of the things that they've learnt is the responsibility for the land and everything on it. So that having the animals and everything is not so straightforward, because for us it gets really dry in the summer. so they have to learn about how the land works and that what we have to do to supplement it. To give the grass as much as we can, and give the animals as much food as we can.

Why did you want to do this series in the first place?
These photos started three or four years ago when we first moved here. I think it coincided with our decision to keep and teach the kids at home. That decision came with a lot of questions from friends, from relatives and from within ourselves. The photos really helped—initially it was to show us maybe what the kids were doing with their day and we found out that they were learning all the time.

What are some of the things that you do to teach them stuff?
We do not formally have a curriculum or anything, but we do have academic sort of books in the house. Probably the only thing that will be remotely formal is maths, but other than that we have just bookshelves and they grab and read lots of books. The other thing is that they ask questions and we encourage them to follow through on their questions and look for answers.

What do you think is going to happen as they grow into teenagers in terms of their connection to the countryside?
Well I am right in the middle of it, as my eldest is only thirteen but it will certainly make a difference on how we do things and it will be interesting to see. I remember when I was a teenager I wished I could live in town. Now I look back on it and I was in the right place. It just meant that we had an extra challenge in terms of transport but I got really good at riding my bike, and it's funny because my kids are getting really good at it now. It is all about getting your independence and in the country there is just another way of doing it.

So what do you think about the city?
I lived and studied in Auckland for four years and to be honest I spent pretty much every weekend getting out of there. There are so many opportunities in the city and things going on, and I hope that our kids will experience that one day, but I think that the country is the best way to grow up as a kid.

It looks so fun! Do you have any favourite shots in this series?
They are all special in different ways. I like to capture the bits of childhood that are not necessarily up there, that everyone expects to see, like the joy and the laughter, I like to shoot more the quiet bits, the confusing bits, the quiet times and frustrating times—they all speak to me in different ways.

French photographer Alan Laboile accused you of plagiarism in 2012. How do you feel about it now?
One thing that it has done is made me look at the whole photography world and even the art world and think about where this has come from. It is interesting to me that people seem to be looking at the aesthetic of the picture rather than what is behind it. For me, I know the pictures they were talking about and I could look at every one of those photos and tell you in-depth the full story about that how it came to be, and what happened before. Still, the way that our world is now, we are looking at the picture for what it is on the surface not what is the depth in it.

That's an interesting point, so as a photographer, how do you draw the line between taking inspiration and aesthetic plagiarism?
It is a really tricky question because if you look at art, any kind of art, you look at poetry, you look at music, everybody has been inspired by somebody or something else, that's how we work. Even if you go back to historic paintings, they were inspired by biblical stories, by myth and legends. So for some reason it is okay in certain areas and not in others, I do not know, it's an interesting line.

See more of Niki's photos here .

Follow Laura Rodriguez Castro on Twitter.