Arts and culture Creativity People

Developing talent

Emma Green (left) and Stella McQuillan perform their duo routine at the NZCAF national competitions last September. Photo: Armstrong Photography NZ
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Nineteen months after Blake Armstrong began taking photos because many of his memories had disappeared, he is running a rapidly-developing photography business.

In 2019, when he was 15, the Dunedin schoolboy bought his first camera with Christmas money.

“Just because over 2018, with a whole lot of mental health issues and family issues, I lost a lot of my memory and past,” he says.

Because of this loss, Blake views photography as a physical way to capture memories:

Something you can’t easily lose – you print it out and it’s there.”

 

He’d previously taken photos on his parents’ old point-and-shoot camera, however casually. With his Christmas money, he purchased a second-hand Nikon D300.

He started seriously taking pictures in August 2019 and by Christmas that year, had begun Armstrong Photography NZ.

Birthed in a flash

You could say the business was birthed in a flash.

The Bayfield High School student had volunteered to take photos at Stars on Stage, a biennial celebration of primary and intermediate school-age dance, drama and music, held at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre.

One group was running late and so the Master of Ceremonies (MC) called Blake up on stage and asked him to photograph the crowd.

To fill in time, the MC asked Blake the name of his business. The 15-year-old experienced a moment of panic, then replied, “Armstrong Photography, it’s my own business.”

Blake recalls how he went backstage and said to himself, “I’ve just said that in front of 1500 people, so I’ve got to do it now.”

Thus his business was born.

After Stars on Stage posted the pictures online, the Dunedin Tap Dancing Society asked him to take photos at its national qualifying championships. Further commissions followed.

Now, Blake (17) covers about three events a month in the dance and theatre scene; as well as sports, school and private events.

He often works full-time in spring and summer and 10 to 20 hours a week during winter and autumn.

Last September when the country emerged from its second Covid-19 Alert Level 2 lockdown, he took 87,000 images at 11 events over four weeks.

This was while he was completing his NCEA Level 2 and 3 qualifications in one year instead of two, so he could do more photography plus Mana Rangatahi, a youth development programme from which he graduated last year.

Photographer Blake Armstrong with his camera on a beautiful old staircase at Mana Rangatahi’s Dunedin office

 

Now that he’s finished school, he has part-time jobs, is involved with Mana Rangatahi community, recruitment and promotion, and is pursuing the marketing and advertising facets of his business.

Capturing memories and emotions

Blake says taking photos enables him to capture personal memories and emotions which he can share with others.

Taking photos for other people allows him to share and express their emotions or precious moments.

“This is really important to my work.”

For instance, he’s worked closely with UniQ, the Otago University Students’ Association queer support group.

People in this group don’t necessarily feel comfortable being intimate in public, so being able to capture this and share it with them is special, Blake says.

The teenager covers many different situations with his camera, from motor sports to school formals, and climate activism to national aerobics championships.

He’d like to say that his photography is based on the dedication of the model or subject, showing their drive and passion.

A fur seal pup sleeps in a rock at Long Beach, Dunedin. This image won a commendation in the 2020 Otago Wildlife Photography Contest. Photo: Armstrong Photography NZ

 

Being “in the moment” is also important for his creativity.

Blake says you have to be 18 to register a company, however he operates as a sole trader, paying taxes and running the venture legally.

Equipment is expensive, so much of his is second-hand. He’s upgraded his Nikon D300 twice and now works with a Nikon Z6 mirror-less lens camera.

Looking to the future, Blake would love photography to support him full-time and as the Dunedin Youth Council chairman, he hopes to do more with that.

In addition, he’d like to develop something similar to Mana Rangatahi in the arts, providing mentoring and leadership.

The Covid-19 crisis means many arts have taken a “big hit” and it’s particularly difficult for youth to progress, he says.

What would he say to young photographers?

“Message me, we’ll see what we can do.”

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About Mana Rangatahi

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