A photo is worth a thousand words. And more.
With that in mind, Professor Fui Asofou So’o, the Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa has expressed the University’s support for a photography project by Samoan artist and commercial photographer, Evotia Tamua.
Tamua, who is based in Auckland, New Zealand but will spend the next twelve weeks in Samoa, has devoted almost her whole life to the project: A photographic documentation of her native village Salelesi over the duration of the last twenty years.
The collaboration with the National University happens within the context of an artist residency, which was given to Evotia Tamua by Creative New Zealand to promote the mentioned project.
With this support, Tamua will be the eighth artist benefiting from the annual three-months long artist residency that was established by N.U.S. and Creative New Zealand for the first time back in 2006, as the University’s Vice Chancellor was able to tell Samoa Observer.
“We always provide a counterpart from our university to share and also learn from the experience and the particular project the artist is doing here in Samoa,” he said.
In the case of Evotia Tamua’s very special photography project, there is also the prospect of an exhibition with the photos from the project at the end of the 12-week long cooperation as well as the publication of the work as an illustrated book. But of course, the artist will not leave her native country without actually passing on the secrets of photography to those who are keen to learn about it.
“With the help of Evotia’s knowledge, we can certainly improve the way photography is perceived in Samoa nowadays. Especially in the context of media photography, there has been a noticeable improvement in Samoa since the last ten years, but this doesn’t mean that there’s no more space to extend these improvements,” said Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, Director of the University’s Centre for Samoan Studies.
As he announced, the facility is already planning on organising a photography work shop for members and students of the media hosted by visiting artist Evotia Tamua in November at the end of her stay.
The photographer from New Zealand declared herself visibly honoured by the possibility of being chosen for the artist residency.
“As a photographer, I am especially proud that I got the opportunity for this residency, because my project, on which I’ve been working for over twenty years now, is of course deeply rooted in the culture and development of the country,” Evotia Tamua said.
“It’s basically a way of expressing a little slice of life in Samoa for people outside of our community.”
The fact that the photographer now is working together with an academic institution is indeed a surprising one, because Tamua explained that in the days of her first tentative steps as a professional photographer, she had to face a big precipitation – caused by nothing else than the world of academics.
“I normally say that I became a photographer sort of by revenge. I didn’t get into studying photography because I was rejected […] or rather told that I just couldn’t get into it in New Zealand”.
But this throwback did trigger a special ambition in the photographer which made her follow one simple rule for her future career progression: learning on the job. “I started working for other photographers, with a background in fashion advertising and journalism,” she described this period of her life.
Since these early days, Evotia Tamua has slashed her way through the world of professional fashion and journalism photography, finally ending up as a photographer for portraiture. But her recent achievements are not only limited by just taking photos but also publishing them since 2007 as the co-founder and associate of Little Island Press, the only commercial book publisher found in the South Pacific area.
With her project about the village of Salelesi, Tamua was especially able to capture the process of change in this particular part of the Samoan archipelago. A process of change that did not only affect the village itself, but also the work of the photographer documenting it for over twenty years.
“Like in any period of time, a lot of things change, and so did my way of working. I started off with using 35mm film and over time I switched to digital photography. The changes in the village however happened rather slowly and when you’re in [the village] you don’t notice it a lot.
“But a lot has happened: many people I have photographed over the years have passed away, now the roads are full of cars, electricity is widely available and everybody is using mobile phones.”
The photographer describes her project as a “documentation of time changing, which you don’t notice until you have something like a marker to look back on like little babies I was photographing and which are now grownups or the fact that a lot of people have left the village and moved overseas.”
Even though Evotia Tamua’s long-term project also includes modern techniques besides the process of taking photos, like for instance the transcription of conversations she had with the villagers of Salelesi or even videos to capture the change in the place, some things still stay the same.
“I am still looking into doing some medium format portraits in the village, just to carry on that special consistency.”