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Portraits of Fiji life

Sailosi Batiratu
Thursday, December 13, 2012

HE has a company which partners UNESCO, the United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, taking pictures of their world heritage sites.

And while all of us agree that, that kind of work is important, Geoff Steven says the work he wants to do in Fiji, is also very important because they are photographs of people and how they lived back in 1972.

Asked to classify his pictures, he quickly replies: "They're social portraits of ordinary people living ordinary lives."

He explains: "What I'd like to do, is have an exhibition and bring them back to the people, descendants of the people and then take them back to New Zealand and show the people what it was like in those days".

"What I think is significant about these pictures is that back in those days, there were no social portraits. A lot of people came and took pictures of themselves on the beach. There was none of ordinary people living ordinary lives."

Geoff says he was in the country in 1972 because of the first South Pacific Arts Festival which is now known as the Festival of Pacific Arts.

After the festival, he had some free time and so decided to, as he puts it "go bush". He then went to an island in the Yasawa Group, the name which he has forgotten. What he remembers is, it is nearer to Viti Levu and not one of the islands to the top.

Upon his return to NZ, he was heavily involved in TV NZ work and forgot all about the shots from Fiji. Recently Geoff said he started digitising the pictures from the negatives.

"When I showed some of the pictures to some people they said 'these are really interesting and they're really good, you know'.

"Why have an exhibition in New Zealand in the art world or in the gallery world? These are ordinary, nice, strong citizens of Fiji so let's bring the pictures back to the citizens of Fiji.

"They're not a subject to be just stuck on a wall or gallery in some country.

"Some of the old people in these photographs might not be around. Their relatives might like to see photographs of them. And children, mostly young children would now be middle-aged and would find it fun. Maybe their children would find it very fun to see them seating out there as they lived their lives 40 years ago.

"I'm talking to the people from the Tourism Ministry. Hopefully I'll get to talk with people from the other government organisations, but what I really need to find eventually is a sponsor. A company that will think this is a worthy thing to promote and beneficial thing to give back to the people.

"Hopefully on this trip I can make a few contacts or a sponsor who sees the opportunity in this.

"I'll be here for the rest of the week and then I go to Nadi then I'll see if I can get to the Yasawas to find that shell market and the village I lived in and a bure. That would be a great story, a great international story if I managed to get an exhibition in that village. I'd love to have an exhibition with pictures from the trees in that village," he said.

Apart from a great story, he says that if his idea eventuates it would also be a great thing for the villagers.

He was recently in Seoul, South Korea, last week, he was in Beijing, China because of his company's, Our Place The World's Heritage, partnership with UNESCO.

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