Images: Adam Bryce

A Photographer Returns Home to Manurewa

Adam Bryce couldn't wait to escape, now he's back celebrating the streets of South Auckland.

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24 April 2018, 1:44am

Images: Adam Bryce

New Zealand fashion photographer Adam Bryce turns his lens toward home in his new photo project examining the community, relationships and social actions in his hometown of Manurewa. Bryce grew up in the South Auckland suburb with the tough reputation—and has now returned home after years working in advertising in New York. In Manurewa he aims to capture the everyday, gentle moments of life in the neighbourhood.

VICE: Hi Adam. So what made you want to do this project?
Adam Bryce: A lot of reasons. I had this idea as an art photographer I wanted to shoot normality and everyday things. And then at the same time I grew up in Manurewa and people had this very particular perception of Manurewa being quite dangerous or high crime. So I just kind of combined the two: documenting everyday life in Manurewa and showing everyday life in photographs and changing people’s perceptions of the place.

What was it like growing up in Manurewa?
Not that bad. I guess that’s where it sort of came from. I guess when I left New Zealand, I was this poor kid from Manurewa, and when I came back I had become reasonably successful. I had money and landed in a different sort of world and within that world, people just had a very different perception of South Auckland and Manurewa than what I remember it being.

You say you have a lot of pride in Manurewa, what are you proud of?
I’ve become really proud of it because of the people. People are really honest and genuine. No one’s trying to be cool, no one’s trying to show off how rich they are or what kind of car they drive.

Sounds very real.
Yeah, incredibly real, to the point of impacting you quite a bit. Even if you thought you weren’t that bad before—once you’ve spent some time over there you realise you’re still a bit of a dick. Even if you’re not that bad, you still worry about the wrong things. Someone said to me that no matter where you go in the world you can always tell if someone’s grown up in Manurewa because they’re humble and much more real.

How would you describe home to people who don't know it?
Obviously there are parts that come with a low socio-economic area, that’s just inevitable. I’d say it’s full of honest, hard-working, good, humble people who are really proud of where they’re from, that hold their family and community values really high. But at the same time an area with not a lot of money and gang culture and things like that—and certain things come with that. I remember as a kid, I used to play at this park. At a certain time of night the older guys in gangs would come over to us and tell us, “It’s time to go home, boys.” They were looking out for us. I think that’s what I discovered, is that people in that area sometimes are not necessarily doing the best things but they don’t necessarily mean badly, and if you won’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

How was the process of shooting it?
After four months I got to know people really well. Everyone knew why I was there, everyone knew who I was. I would just walk through the streets and through the mall and everyone would say, “Hi.” I was at this cafe every day and they knew what I wanted. All the security guards and cleaners at the mall would just have lunch with me. You just became part of the furniture.
Going back there has been so special in a way. I remember working my ass off my whole childhood to get out of there, which is the kind of ironic thing. I was so driven as a kid to be successful. I wanted to leave, I wanted to be somewhere where people weren’t poor. I didn’t realise that there were other things that were actually much better than money.

An exhibition of Manurewa by Adam Bryce, and an accompanying book of the works, is launching at Southmall on May 5. See more of Adam's work here.

Read more: The People of Manurewa Tell Us Why They Don't Vote