Passion and Place: Daniel Max

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Daniel Max, the commercial photographer known as Maxy, shares his experience in starting a beautiful personal project, Our Land, and his plans to continue it

Our Land is an ode to New Zealand, a celebration of our beautiful country. An ongoing photographic series documenting the connection between New Zealanders and the landscape they inhabit, it sets out to observe, without intrusion, these varied relationships within our land.

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Essentially, this project is an expression of the things I love most about both New Zealand and photography. I want to explore the bond many Kiwis share with their country; that pride in our renowned landscape. Many of us are happiest when at one with the land — whether we’re farming or fishing, or just relaxing in nature. Personally I’m most at peace alone in the wild, on a beautiful vast beach, camera in hand.

I’d been motivated to work on a personal project for a long time, but never had the time to step away from my commercial work, and hadn’t found a subject I was truly passionate about. Eventually it developed organically, from simply being out in the environment, doing what I love. The first image — The Seal (below) — happened spontaneously during a break in a campaign shoot. We were waiting out some rain in the production truck when I saw this little dude hiding in the dunes. I couldn’t resist jumping out to shoot some images, and the results immediately felt right. The misty, overcast light lent itself perfectly to the washed, painterly style I’d been developing, and this ended up flowing through the rest of the series. What started with capturing my connection with the landscape developed into documenting other New Zealanders and their own interactions.

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Over the next eight months I built on this, heading out West to shoot when I wasn’t working. But it really came together when I booked a month out of my schedule, packed the truck with my camping and camera gear, and missioned down to the West Coast of the South Island. You could call it drive-by shooting — letting the country take me down, I drove along the coast, stopping at pubs and finding people on the beach, setting my tripod up when the moment was right. While shooting from a distance I found people would click back into their moment quickly, resulting in a really true shot. This fed into my idea of people being part of the landscape rather than a main feature.

I exhibited and sold a number of the limited-edition prints in the first part of this project, and hope to do the same over the next three years. I plan to take a month off each year to travel a different part of the country, and document my experiences along the way. Eventually I’d love to see the work culminate in a book — a slight twist on the ongoing documentation of New Zealand’s beauty, seen from my personal viewpoint. Ultimately I’d love to get Creative New Zealand funding for the project, as it takes a lot of time and money to make something like this work.

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Apart from the satisfaction of doing a personal project, I aimed to grow my portfolio, and showcase some of my personal style. I wanted something to present to advertising agencies that would inspire them and show them some of my work outside a commercial brief.

It’s great to have a wicked body of work that I’m proud of, and have a sense of passion about. At the end of the day everyone wants to see someone who’s passionate about something — it’s one of those driving forces that can make anyone succeed.

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Our Land prints are still for sale, and can be found on Maxy’s website: www.maxy.co.nz 

This article was originally published in The Photographer's Mail no. 196.

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