Vienna (Left) and Taaniko (right) at their first gig – Kawhia Kai Fest
I know Taaniko through a couple of close friends of mine – Vanu Maoate (Nunu) & Amy Raumati and we’d see each other every now and then when she’d be up in Auckland and we’d have a night out or something. I think the last time we caught up before I knew she’d started Soldiers Road Portraits was at Nunus farewell in a bar in Ponsonby.
A few months later I saw this beautiful vintage style portrait that Amy posted on her facebook of herself and her 2 children DeeYontae and Rain and I was like OMG! I want to be a maori* and be able to dress up and have my picture taken too!! lol! As most people know I love photography and particularly portraits and photographs of people and I thought the portraits were really unique and were especially awesome for maoris being able to dress up in traditional/cultural attire and the facial tattoos which are so unique to maori culture really identifies them as such. Such a great concept!!
*Maori – indigenous people of New Zealand
L-R Amy, DeeYontae & Rain
At the beginning of September this year, Auckland held it’s 4th biannual ATAMIRA, Maori in the City festival and I was excited to see that Taaniko was doing portraits at the festival. I DM’d her on fb to see if I could come down and feature her for my blog and she offered to take my kids portraits for free if they’d like to dress up as Samoans – so cool! My kids were like MUM can we NOT have to sit here in front of all these people with our tops off lol! I got to meet her sister-in-law Vienna that day and love the portraits she did of them! You can check out the final product at the end of the post.
My boys Jirah and Rocky with Taaniko at the Atamira Maoris in the City festival
I was really impressed with how efficiently everything ran – I think within the hour that I was there having a look around, getting the boys portraits done and asking her questions they’d taken at least 3-4 sets of portraits. Taaniko does the styling/make-up and Vienna shoots the portraits. I’d always thought they hand drew on all the different ta-mokos (facial tattoos) but they had stencils a tattoo artist had done for them that they just placed in ink and then transferred the pattern to the subjects face. They also had an ipad that you could put in your details for them to send out once the sitting was over as well.
Vienna & Taaniko at work at the Atamira Maoris in the City Festival held opposite The Cloud in Auckland City, September 2013
They have a lot of really cool colonial type costumes that they found in op shops. Taaniko said she’s always been a great op shopper so this was perfect. The bodice they use is Taanikos great grandmothers and is 90 years old.
I got to ask Taanz a bunch of questions about where she got the idea/concept for her business and how she started. Check it out below ….
All Soldiers Road photographs taken by Vienna Nordstrom and used with permission
ME: How did you come up with the concept for the type of portraits you guys do?
TN: So my whole childhood, I’ve grown up in a very artistic house where we had HUGE wall hangings of old indians that my mum had painted on dyed sheets wrapped on bamboo. Then when those got old for her, she blew up two huge canvas photos of two old chiefs. One of them she had painted for the original wall hangings, and they hung in our house on each side of the plasma (on the wall, they are HUUUUGE as and you can’t miss them, like two kaumatua watching you watch TV. haha. So portraits have been in my household since I can remember. Then we went to the Smithsonian museum in New York and saw these old portraits like the ones in our house of Old Native American Chiefs that I swear looked just like Maori, and that was when the idea of recreating these portraits happened. She shouted my expenses on that trip and sent me to New York purely for inspiration to try and better my life. (Cool mum aye! haha).
Her mothers living room with the two portraits of the Native American chiefs that sit next to the TV
ME: Uhhh YES!!! Sooo Cool!! Did you have much to start wih in terms of the costumes and maori accessories when you first started?
TN: So over some time my mum sewed together some contemporary type korowai just from stuff she had in our shed and other finds she found at saturday markets and op shops. When we started, we had 4 Korowai, 1 Puipui and 5 tablecloth skirtings I was using to look like high colonial collars. Some pounamu, bone and a few earrings from our own stuff or family members. Vienna owned her own flash camera and the backdrop we masking taped to the gazebo poles! That was it.
ME: Since you first started you’ve had quite a few of the props and accessories donated to you. Can you tell me a bit about that?
TN: Some close friends of mine from High School are from Porirua. I went down to Homegrown this year, and stayed with them and they have the coolest house full of all sorts of arty type stuff. One of mates was rummaging and found this amazing old school musket. I grabbed it, knew it would be amazing for our portraits and asked my aunty Hinemoa Metekingi (my best friends mum who I call Aunty cuz she pretty much is) if I could use it. She didn’t hesitate. Her Aunty who had passed away had given it to her grandson, who we, took it from. (But he’s 6 and was sweet with it). The same Aunty got us down to Wellington for our first ever trip to do portraits there on Anzac day, from Takapuwahia Marae. The same marae that the All Black haka Ka Mate orginated from. (I even think they have copyrights/trademark to that haka?) She had been learning to make piupiu and gave us 3 adult piupiu and one child piupiu to use. Also, while we were in Wellington, we did bookings from Hetet Gallery. On some down time the two talented sisters there would come in and chat and one of them, just got some flax and casually with some scissors made two flax headbands that we still use today. As well as giving an intricate weaved headband we have. Some people from Ngaruawahia who we did a private booking for brought some top hats for their shot and gave them to us at the end. We’ve also had a toddler samoan costume given to us to use. It’s amazing cos without these props – our portraits wouldn’t look the way they do.
Taaniko holding a musket donated to her and Soldiers Road Potraits
ME: I first saw and heard about what you guys were doing when Amy (Sheeqy) posted it up on facebook and shared the portrait you guys did of her, Dee & Rain. Is Social Media the main way you got the word out there about what you were doing?
TN: Soldiers Rd is what it is because of Social Media. My mum and I had already started a Soldiers Rd page but it was just a place to hold some of the test shots we had done. We didn’t share it or encourage people to LIKE it or anything, up until Kawhia Kai Fest held on the first weekend of February, which was Soldiers Rd Portraits first ever gig. There, we did a bunch of portraits, had a sign telling people to like us on Facebook and then posted those pictures to facebook the next day. We followed that up with a Waitangi Day stall in Manukau and did another bunch of portraits, and in 5 days (2 of them working) since starting, we had done atleast 80 portraits. Posted those pictures up on our page and it was crazy, got 1000 likes within a week. Facebook is your friend AND your foe. Lots of keyboard warriors out there with opinions or things to say, but the immediate exposure from social networking you can’t argue.
ME: Was it when people saw the portraits that you guys were posting on facebook that you started getting invites to Australia and all around the country?
TN: Pretty much, Maori living in Australia cottoned on to Soldiers Rd really fast. Due to people sharing or liking our page and tagging people in posts and photos. We went to Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast) on a 16 day trip. (12 working and 4 flying and drving) within 5 months of doing our first portraits. All the venues were offered to us by strangers, who had liked our page and our stuff. We just posted up that we were needing somewhere to do it that got good daylight and was big enough to have people coming through and getting changed in. (Garages, front rooms whatever!) We funded that trip from our own pockets so hiring studios for those hours was out of the question. We ended up meeting the most, wonderful people who opened their homes and even businesses to us. Really awesome Maori people living in Australia and loving having us there doing our portraits. We go back and do it from their garages still now 🙂
Beautiful portrait of Taaniko in colonial clothes
ME: Where did the name ‘Soldiers Road Portraits’ come from?
TN: Soldiers Rd is actually a Rd at the bottom of the Kaimais driving from Cambridge to Tauranga. My grandfather drove a logging truck and my mum would go for rides and she always remembered the rd. We went for a drive last year and she was telling me the story and showed me it and we both said how cool the name Soldiers Rd was. Almost like a play on words. Mums had a few business ventures herself and she always uses different and interesting names, but the idea of the portraits and first pictures taken of the idea happened around about the same time me and mum took that drive. I’d never heard of anything like it before. For me, not all of us are soldiers, but we all are on our own journey (road) and it’s not always easy. Some shots are really powerful, and you can see their own personal “Soldiers Rd” story from their expression and eyes. The land that Soldiers Rd is on was actually Maori land confiscated and given to Soldiers returning from the war. I guess in someways we reclaimed it back with using the name! haha
Me: Your Mum made some of the more modern looking korowai – I heard her say that the tartan ones represent colonisation. Can you expand a bit more on that?
TN: So most Korowai (Cloak) you see wont usually have the tartan that we use. Usually the are made of feathers or fur with intricate weaving, they’re super expensive because of the materials and the work put into them. The ones my mum made are cheaper so to speak but because they’re used for photos, it’s irrelevant really. It just needs to look good in a photo and handle being put on and taken off throughout the day. The tartan fabric she scored from an op shop, loads of it and we used it on the korowai to represent the tartan blankets that were traded by early white settlers to Maori (usually under false pretences) for ownership of their land. A lot of the old, Maori portraits we took inspiration from have them wearing tartan blankets.
Tartan korowai (cloak) that Taanz mother made for their portraits
ME: What tribe are you from? Are both your parents maori?
TN: My name Taaniko (is Maori) and Nordstrom ( is Swedish), exactly reflects my heritage, so I’m Maori and Swedish. My hapu (tribes) is Ngati Hine (up north near Whangarei) and Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairoa (Wairoa, on the East Coast). My mum is Maori and dad Swedish/Maori. We were raised in a household where indigenous cultures and being Maori was talked about and encouraged. My parents travelled alot and one trip went back to Stockholm to get all my dads genealogy from a library there.
ME: You do the styling and your sister-in-law Vienna takes the photos. Did you have to do any kind of business courses in order to set this business up or did you already have a business background?
TN: I had a Certificate in Small Business Management from Te Wanaga O Aotearoa that I had done night classes for maybe 4 years ago and had a small business idea doing workshops for teenage Maori girls in CYFS care. My sister in law had a little cupcake business last year in Auckland that she was doing too so we had a tiny bit of experience. My mum has always encouraged me to think outside the square and to think up business ideas so I’d never have to work for “the man”. haha. She’s been working as an FGC co-ordinator (She was the first person in the world to hold a Family Group Conference, a process now used in many countries) for CYFS for 25 years and had side business ventures she did the whole time. She’s a really onto it woman. Probably could have been a millionaire if she didn’t have 7 kids and have to work to feed us all. So, the idea of a business doing something I was good at was always encouraged by my mother wanting me to avoid the trap of having to work a 9-5 for someone else.
ME: So cool!! Why do you think your type of portraits appeals to so many people and has been as popular as it has been?
TN: In terms of popularity. Honestly, Vienna and I are still trying to figure that out! lol. No, seriously, I think the reason why it has become so popular is that, no one was doing it before we did it! It’s crazy. Before Soldiers Rd Portraits, you could fly to Aotearoa and go to Rotorua, be taken to see Maori tourism sites and you could dress up in a Pakeha colonial costume and get a picture taken, but not as a Maori?? Weird right. Who wants to come to New Zealand as a tourist and get a keep sake to take home dressed up like an English person, you can do that in England! haha. I think we live in a time now where we are able to get away with the use of ta moko, and non traditional props etc for the sake of art. I’m not sure if 20 years ago the average Maori mindstate would have been as accepting of our idea or as willing to do it. With the technological age we live in and with half our Maori population living in Australia, its an easy way for Maori to showcase their heritage and pride in something as simple and easy as a portrait.
Model and Manager/Owner of N Model Management – Ngahuia Williams
ME: Highlight since you started your business?
TN: Highlights would have to be the people we have met. Just the most wonderful people, full of aroha and kindness, and always keen to talk and we have heard the most amazing stories and get such wonderful emails from happy customers. Just in the weekend, that song those First Nation Women sang to us. AMAZING! That would never have happened to me otherwise.
ME: Biggest thing you’ve learned?
TN: Biggest thing I’ve learned??….. Pack lighter! haha. Nah, actually, the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that I am infact creative. My mum is an artist, in every sense of the word. She can paint, she makes wall hangings and shes crafty, can make dream catchers and all sorts. I’m clumsy with my hands and intricate things like beads and can’t paint for crap. So, I liked art, I appreciated artistic things and had grown up around it but never considered myself creative or artistic because in my eyes, that was my mother and I was nowhere near her (she would always tell me I was creative tho!). However, through Soldiers Rd and styling each portrait, and playing with stuff and how they look in photo and mucking around with the the overall look of a picture. I’ve realised I am infact creative. Sometimes over fussy and a lot of the time experimental with my ideas for portraits. I’m creative and artistic, maybe not the same as my mother, but in my own way.
ME: Thats Awesome!! Can anyone get a portrait even if they’re not maori?
TN: ABSOLUTELY! Infact, we want to get more into doing other indigenous cultures and especially Pacific Island. We are sourcing and making costumes at the moment to be able to cater to this as we have done some awesome cross culture shots using tapa/moko for example. Just this weekend, I finally got to do an idea I’ve had for awhile with a women of both Maori and Indian heritage wearing a Sari and a Moko. It looked awesome! All cultures are welcome and if you have your own costumes then we can do them sooner.
Model and dancer Sarah-Lina Brown who is Cook Island and her baby Lola who was 4 months old at the time.
I asked Sarah-Lina for some feedback on her portrait – here’s what she had to say
“Apart from Taany being one of my best friends and her asking me to do a portrait for her haha I really wanted to support her business and really liked the concept of embracing our cultures in an artistic way with vintage portraits. I was so keen on the idea that I got my 4 month old daughter involved and did a Mummy & Baby shoot.
It was especially important to me to show her different bloodlines being – European, Maori and Cook Island Maori. So it’s really cool how you can photograph blended cultures as well. I brought flowers and polynesian jewellery as an edition to both my daughters and my own heritage.
I would highly recommend this business to all cultures, maori and non-maori. It’s a lot of fun and a very creatively unique business! Go Taaniko!”
Back to the interview ….
ME: Sweet! I might need to have a Samoan one done too! What are your charges?
TN: These are our prices. (See below) So pretty much how it works is. These are the prices for any indoor setting, studio days, bookings in Australia or at a venue, we usually make them a tad cheaper in Market settings just cuz the general public is around making it less private. We do private bookings, you can set the date and time and we do it at our studio, but that has an extra cost of $150. OR, once a month on a Saturday we have a Studio Day, and a Studio day is pretty much a chance for people who want a portrait but can’t afford the private booking cost to show up and get a portrait without the added $150 charge. No appointments, you just show up and wait in line or go straight on through for your portrait. We want people of all financial situations to be able to afford to get a portrait. Our prices are cheap, compared to other portrait places, considering you get the time, the costumes, the moko, the cameraman and the photo for $75.
a. Individual portraits are $75 each for adult or child.
b. Group portraits (2 or more persons in one portrait) are $60 for teenager/adult and $30 per additional child (10 years or under).
If the group photo involves only children under ten years of age, the first child will be $60 and $30 per child after that.
Studio Days – advertised, held one Sat each month, portrait costs onlyPrivate Bookings $150 + portraitsPortraits are emailed to you as soon as they are processed.
Canvas portraits arranged by request.
ME: You’re based in Cambridge – do you have a schedule of where you’ll be over the next few months so that if people missed out the last time you were in a town near them they could try and get in for next time? One of my mates was gutted she missed you at Atamira – she’s married to a maori so was really keen to get her kids portraits done!
TN: At the moment we are based out of my place in Cambridge. Over the summer tho, Raglan hopefully. Trying to secure a place now. So we work from our base AND we travel. If she can’t get down to us tell her to keep her eyes peeled on our Facebook for when we are back in Auckland. We have had a weekend up there before working out of a motel conference room in New Market.
ME: So whats next for Soldiers Road Portraits?
TN: Whats next?? I wanna get into doing portraits of other cultures, especially Samoan as Vienna is Samoan. I’m also looking into purchasing a go pro and filming people as they come to get a portrait, explaining who they are, and why. Just heard to many stories not to want to do something with them all. I’d like to travel with this idea. Find 8 Maori that are living in random places in the world and fly to them, spend a day with them and do their portraits. Cool doco ideas I have rolling around this brain I think. haha. I wanna set up Soldiers Rd in different locations and pay like minded wahine to do our portraits while I take a cut and sit at home thinking up other cool stuff. Hopes and dream… Hopes and dreams. haha
Finished portraits of Jirah (left) and Rocky (right)
Thank you so much for sharing this with us Taanz it’s been inspirational for me thats for sure! Hopes and Dreams!!
They’ll be in Australia from this Sunday so go to their Soldiers Road Facebook page or their website for more details if you’d like to book in a portrait sitting. Sydney is sold out but I believe they still have spots in both Melbourne and Brisbane so get in quick all you Aussies!!
Contact details here:
SOLDIERS ROAD PORTRAITS
Where Yesterday touches today
Taaniko and Vienna Nordstrom
1 Baxter Place, Cambridge, NZ
Click here for Facebook
Click here for their Soldiers Road Portraits website
or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org