Wellingtonians win prizes from Foundation for the Arts laureates: photographer Harry Culy and director Nina Nawalowalo


Just like in the stories, it started with a dream. Harry Culy lived in Sydney, disappointed in photography, until one night zombies chased him through the streets of his mind, a camera bag strapped to his back.

The joy he felt at capturing the end of the world through the lens – although there would be no one around to see the footage – followed him into his waking hours.

“I woke up and realized that the act of photographing was enough. It’s not the result, it’s a way of looking deeply at the world, ”he said this week.

“At that point, I thought I should go home and take it seriously. “He booked a flight and enrolled in a master’s degree at Massey University.

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Harry Culy with his old school camera.


Harry Culy with his old school camera.

It was six years ago. Now 35, Culy is one of eight recipients of the 2021 Arts Foundation Laureate, a celebration of New Zealand’s most outstanding artists.

The other Wellington artist honored this year is Artistic Director and Theater Matriarch Nina Nawalowalo.

The only winner photographs this year

One of Culy's photographs, showing a swimming pool in Hawke's Bay, 2017.

Harry Culy / Supplied

One of Culy’s photographs, showing a swimming pool in Hawke’s Bay, 2017.

Culy is the only photographer in a list of directors, artists, actors and musicians. “It’s quite humiliating,” he said.

He grew up in Wellington, skating the streets, where he and his friends took photos and filmed each other’s tricks, avidly browsing skate magazines and VHS tapes.

One day, he comes across the photograph of Diane Arbus, an American photographer who sheds light on the lives of marginalized people.

“These photos really hit me in the stomach and I realized that photography can be a very powerful way to communicate with the world. I became totally obsessed.

Untitled (Devyn) by Harry Culy.

Harry Culy / Supplied

Untitled (Devyn) by Harry Culy.

Culy had always felt a bit like an outsider, so for him photography was a way of connection.

“I work with a really old fashioned 4″ by 5 “field camera. One of those you have to get under the hood, and the world is flipped upside down and upside down, a box with a lens on it and the film goes in the back.

The glass, like a small glowing picture, allowed him to understand the world a little better, having to slow down and assimilate everything.

He developed his own photos, savoring the process of the scene before his eyes slowly becoming a print on the wall. “I kind of fell in love with this process and the process of involvement every step of the way.”

Culy's projects often had a personal connection;  Mirror City, his latest, recounts his experience returning to a familiar place that has changed in his absence.


Culy’s projects often had a personal connection; Mirror City, his latest, recounts his experience returning to a familiar place that has changed in his absence.

His projects could last for years. While in Sydney he lived near a place called The Gap.

“I walked past these cliffs every day on my way to work, looked out to sea and imagined where New Zealand was in the distance. “I would stop at the same place every day and the sea would be totally different. “

He began to photograph the sea in all its different atmospheres, until one day “I heard the incredible story of Don Ritchie”.

Until his death in 2012, Ritchie lived across the road and watched the desolate souls at night seeking a cliffside escape, ready with a cup of tea and a friendly ear. “They think he saved over 400 lives.”

Knowing that this story brought something new to the experience of photographing this sight, Culy said – he had had his own mental health issues.

The series, containing between 20 and 30 photos so far, was in progress. Culy planned to return to The Gap when travel restrictions allow.

The Gap installation, showing the view of the sea on three different days, with different atmospheres.

Harry Culy / Supplied

The Gap installation, showing the view of the sea on three different days, with different atmospheres.

His latest project was called Mirror City, “a gothic love letter to my hometown”. Back in Wellington, he experienced a disconnect with a place that was both familiar, but changed.

His nonprofit publishing house, Bad New Books, started as black-and-white photocopying zines in 2013 and has provided a platform for emerging and established artists. “We are bypassing the traditional publishing model and doing small runs of 25 to 200 books.

“There isn’t a big audience in New Zealand, but we create these very beautiful pieces of art and present them to an audience that seems to be growing. “


Nina Nawalowalo ONZM receives the Theresa Gattung Female Arts Practitioners Award.

Art before sport for Nina Nawalowalo

The other Wellingtonian to celebrate this year is Nina Nawalowalo. She didn’t grow up in the spotlight, or even backstage in the theater. She was rather “a sportswoman, a basketball player”.

His mother was from England, his father from Fiji; they had met at the chess club. Her mother met famous photographer Ans Westra, and Nawalowalo still cherishes the photos Westra took of her parents.

It wasn’t until after her stint at Wellington Teachers’ College, where she met Robert Bennett, that the theater world began to beckon.

She watched Bennett mime at the college orientation, and was captivated. “He was the first person who changed my life,” she said.

Director and producer Nina Nawalowalo at the Bats Theater


Director and producer Nina Nawalowalo at the Bats Theater

She quickly settled into the world of mime – a true mime with faces painted white – touring with Bennett’s company in New Zealand, and was fortunate enough to be one of two Wellingtonians chosen to join. a group of 23 young Kiwis traveling to Moscow for an international theater festival in 1985.

This trip broadened her horizons and for the next 10 years she made London her home. “It was the door – it always comes back to him [Bennett]. “

She returned to New Zealand in 1988, stayed there for a short time, then left with Bennett for a tour of Tahiti. Growing up and traveling, she explored different forms of theater and ways of expressing different cultures.

“I try to use all the formations and different forms and merge them with the Pacific storytelling.”

Artistic director Nina Nawalowalo, right, pictured with Fa'amoana


Artistic director Nina Nawalowalo, right, pictured with Fa’amoana “John” Luafutu, whose life and experiences as a child in care in the 1960s are the subject of “A Boy Called Piano” . (File photo)

“Theater has changed dramatically over the past 30 years,” she said. “The diversity of the storytelling, the way people explore the culture… it’s really exciting.”

Nawalowalo is the co-founder and artistic director of The Conch theater company, which was launched in 2002 at Wellington’s Bats Theater.

“I guess I just wanted to be free and explore women’s stories,” she said. “There is something about being able to be the author of your own images.

The room that started it all was Saw the, which lasted for seven years and graced the Sydney Opera House stage. “It was a relief to think he was addressing an international audience. It’s the beauty of something when it works.

In 2013, she created the Solomon Islands National Women’s Theater Company “Stages of Change” to address violence against women, and her most recent show, The white guitar, told the powerful story of the Luafutu family – father John and sons Matthias and Malo, the famous hip hop artist known as Scribe. The sold-out show was widely praised by critics.

“A big motivation for me is how I – the mature artist now – can open up avenues for others.”

This year’s other winners are Shane Bosher, Brett Graham, Rangi Kipa, Maisey Rika, Vasanti Unka, Florian Habicht and Nigel Borell.


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