The buzz of it all: Rachel Callander

Next month one of the biggest events on the local photography calendar kicks off; from August 3 the three-day Infocus photography convention begins in Rotorua. Organized by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography, the event will see some of the biggest names in the business converge on the Emergy Events Centre for a programme of inspiring talks, hands-on workshops, industry exhibitions, and general merriment.

In the weeks leading up to the event D-Photo is bringing you interviews with some of the illustrious photographers who will be speaking at Infocus, so you can get to know them beforehand and gain even more from their presentations. First up we have the ever-lovely Rachel Callander, wedding and portrait photographer extraordinaire at Timaru's Callander Girl Photography.

As well as being named New Zealand Wedding Photographer of the year in 2011 and pulling in a litany of accolades at the Iris Professional Photography Awards, Rachel is just about to release a very special photographic book, entitled Super Power Babies. Dedicated to celebrating the unique spirit of New Zealand children with chromosomal and genetic conditions (aka super powers), the project was successfully financed through crowdfunding platform Pledge Me and took Rachel around the country amidst considerable media interest.

So, clearly her Infocus talk, "'The Journey of a Dream' and finding beauty in brokenness", will be quite something. We caught up with Rachel to get her views on life, the universe, and everything:

D-Photo: Hi Rachel, can you briefly tell us a little about yourself and your photography?

Rachel Callander: Hi! Well, photography and I have been best buds since forever ago, sometimes it’s hard to separate myself from it. It is so much of my identity and I believe that being a photographer helps me to see. I live in the glorious little town of Timaru with my husband Sam and awesome cat Roo. Life feels simple, yet full of opportunities here.

When did you first realise you wanted to be a photographer?

I was quite young, my Dad and I went halvsies in an SLR camera when I was 14. I loved photographing people,  interesting textures and little things. My high school art teacher told me I could make photography a career, so I worked towards preparing for entry into art school to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Which is what I did!

Are wedding and portrait photography the styles you always gravitated towards?

Yes, people interest me so much and I am drawn to images which capture an emotion or tell a story. I loved going to the library and spending hours just looking at photographs. I loved the old masters so much. Anne Noble was a big fav of mine too, and Annie Leibovitz blew my mind. I discovered awesome wedding photographers much later; I was drawn to Joe Buissink and Yervant early on and now I love that wedding photography feels more free, more organic almost.

What do you like best about being a wedding photographer?

The buzz of it all! It’s so happy and exciting and full of love. It is so lovely to be surrounded in those things constantly. I love to meet couples and hear their dreams and plans for the future. I love to capture something of themselves, for them – to help them remember why they are so good together. I love the emotion and the chaos, all the people that make the day special – this is what inspires me.

If you could change one aspect of the job, what would it be?

The computer tech-y stuff and my own limitations. I wish I could change how I learn. I feel quite slow and it takes me a long time to learn new things, so I feel I am always in catch-up mode. Like new programs, workflow stuff… scary, shudder.

Your book, Super Power Babies, launches soon – can you tell us a little about that project?

Sure! It is a photographic art book, perfect for a coffee-table, full of images and stories of children around New Zealand with chromosomal and genetic conditions. The book aims to change the way we view and talk about disability and celebrates the lives and abilities of each child and the profound things they are teaching their families.

It has been a labour of love over the last 10 months and we are so proud of it. The whole concept was inspired by my beautiful late daughter, Evie, who had a very rare chromosomal condition and only lived 2.5 years. In that short time, however, she taught us so many incredible things and we felt that the way she did life, in its uniqueness, was really beautiful. We started saying she had super powers as a way to describe the phenomenon of the impact she had on people and her distinctly Evie abilities. It was a lovely way for us to help balance the very negative language that we constantly faced with Evie from the medical world and people not understanding.

There is more info at www.superpowerbabyproject.org and you can pre-order the book too!

Super Power Babies has been a very successful example of crowdfunding, would you recommend that route for other photographers?

YES! It is a fabulous way of engaging a group of people who are interested in what you’re doing. It’s also a risk-free way to get capital investment to launch a product, idea, service, or project. It’s hard work, but the rewards are incredible. I think that photographers have a great opportunity to explore crowdfunding for all sorts of creative projects.

Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do with Super Power Babies, or might it be a continuing project?

I do and I am excited to see where it will go. It has a life of its own and it will be fascinating to see how people respond to it. If other things naturally come out of it I am keen to explore them. I feel like I have done my best for the project so it’s now about how others react and what they do with it.

What sort of people should come along to your Infocus talk?

People who need encouragement, people who have dreams or ideas of doing something more with their photography, people who are use photography to tell stories. Everybody!

What would you say was the most challenging shoot of your career so far?

I shot a wedding in the middle of nowhere at Port Ligar in the Marlborough Sounds and I had the norovirus. I also got stung by a wasp and fell in a ditch and it was raining. It was the perfect storm of misery. But I pulled through and made some lovely photos. I found out a few months later that the bride and groom weren’t together anymore. It was hard not to be a little mad!

What sort of gear is in your kit?

I have a Nikon Df and two old but trusty D700s, and some lovely Nikon prime lenses. I have the 70-200mm f/2.8, which I not-so-affectionately call “chunka munka” due to its heftiness ( I have developed tennis elbow because of that lens! For real).  But it is still a winner for me.

What do you like to do when not photographing?

I love being around people, whatever that looks like. Talking, eating, going somewhere to explore. I really enjoy company.

What inspires you creatively?

Words (like poems or stories, and sometimes just a single word), thoughts, colours, music, lyrics, emotions, beautiful things and spaces.

If you could have one super power what would it be, and why?

Time travel would be pretty amazing, to go back in time and talk with loved ones. If I can’t have that though, being able to shoot a straight horizon line would also be great. I am so bad at it!

Hear more from photographer Rachel Callander at Infocus 2014, in Rotorua from August 3-5 – see the event website for more information and ticketing details