Local photographer captures emotional connections with the environment

01 Jun 2021

For artist Ian Preece, photography has always been about capturing a mood or an emotion, and his image, “Kuaotunu Storm,” which received the People’s Choice award at the Mercury Bay Art Escape Gala Evening in April, was no exception. “When you look back at a photograph, it’s nice to not only be reminded of the location but how it made you feel in the moment,” he says. 

“Kuaotunu Storm” was part of a 10-photo “Seascape” series that Ian created in different weather conditions over an 18-month period, using filters and long exposure techniques. “It’s even better when you exhibit the work and people pick up on that emotion as well, they may interpret it a bit differently, but there’s still an emotional connection,” he says. “The People’s Choice award was a big deal for me, photography doesn’t always win, so it meant a lot. I was really surprised and I think it showed.” 

Ian’s motivation to photograph the natural world is something that started at a young age. Originally from the United Kingdom, he grew up in a heavily industrialised part of town, devoid of parks and green spaces. “Whenever I’d go to places like the Lake District, I’d be in awe of the natural landscape,” he says. “I started to develop a fascination with the world around me.”

From there, Ian’s career path led him to work as a geophysicist and later as a project manager in the corporate sector, all the while dabbling in amateur photography. It was only once he settled in New Zealand in the late 1990s that he started to get serious about becoming a professional photographer. In 2010, he completed photography qualifications and a hands-on course with fine arts photographer, Jonathan Chritchley

Ian’s first professional gig as a photographer was in 2012 for the Hindustan Travel Company in the Himalayas, running on-location photography workshops. A couple of years later he had his first successful solo exhibition, exhibiting photographs he had taken in India. 

Now Ian regularly exhibits and sells his work both in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, runs photography workshops and has gained a large following. “When I first visited New Zealand back in 1996, I never imagined that 25 years later I’d be a professional full-time photographer living in Kuaotunu,” he says. 

Kuaotunu was a perfect fit for Ian and his wife, Shirley. “When it came time for us to buy land and settle down, Kuaotunu was the natural choice,” Ian says. “We’d only visited it once, but we’d never forgotten what it felt like to be here. It’s a very artistic community with a lot of like-minded people.”

Considering his fascination with the natural world, it’s no surprise that Ian is a proud advocate for the environment. “The ecology in New Zealand is so unique, there are plants and animals here that are nowhere else in the world, that need protecting,” he says. “I’m not anti-development, but I do believe there should be a balance between development and conservation.”

As part of this ethos, Ian and his family committed to a regeneration project on their 45-acre property, embarking on a massive re-planting project of native trees and plants from 2005 to 2015. The land is protected under a QEII covenant. 

Ian believes that nature photography goes a long way in delivering the conservation message as well. “The natural environment has a certain aesthetic appeal,” he says. “I think this definitely motivates artists to create things and use those creations to communicate a message.”

Ian regularly makes his photography available without charge to local environmental organisations for use on their websites and in reports, including Mahakirau Forest Estate on the 309 Road, Predator Free Hauraki Coromandel Trust, Driving Creek Conservation Trust and Glenfern Sanctuary on Great Barrier Island. He is planning a solo exhibition at Driving Creek Gallery later in the year. He would specifically like to thank Lea Jurkovic of Bayleys Whitianga for sponsoring this year’s Mercury bay Art Escape People’s Choice award. 

Pictured: Ian Preece at home in Kuaotunu holding his Mercury Bay Art Escape People’s Choice winning photograph, “Kuaotunu Storm.”