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Humans of New York? Huawei gets creative with the untold stories of Aotearoa

Fascinated by the Humans of New York? Then check out the Humans of New Zealand - or, rather, Huawei's cool new 100 Portraits: Revealing Untold Stories project.

Humans of New York” is something almost everyone knows about. After all, the photoblog – featuring pictures and stories of everyday people in New York City – is one of the Internet’s more popular sites (at least if Alexa rankings are anything to go by). Has it spawned imitators the world over? Yes. And is there a “Humans of Aotearoa?” Yes – well, kind of.

A new campaign tells the untold stories of New Zealanders using the art of photography, with a series of striking portrait photographs and captivating background stories. 100 Portraits: Revealing Untold Stories was initiated by smartphone maker Huawei, and aims to provide insight into the wider society of the world in which we live, as well as challenge New Zealanders to consider people’s stories beyond face value. 

Lauren Mann, one of the people photographed.

Huawei engaged three talented photographers (Stu Robertson, Michael Farr and Simon Woolf) to capture beautiful portrait images using the Leica dual lens camera on Huawei P10 and Huawei P10 Plus smartphones. The campaign gives New Zealanders from all walks of life a chance to tell their story – from Olympians and youth workers, to drug addicts and musicians – by answering questions designed to gain insight into their lives, including whether they are happy, whether they feel part of society, what inspires them, and how many times they have failed.

Subjects fall into three categories: The heroes, those who are integral to society yet are often taken for granted; the fighters, who fight for success against all odds; and the outcasts, who are often the recipients of unfair judgement without consideration for their story. 

The results are profound – and inspiring. Each of the 100 people photographed said they were happy, despite often trying circumstances and a variety of situations. The campaign also challenges the accepted definition of “society”; many participants said they felt they belonged to their own personal part of society, which doesn’t necessarily fit into what is deemed as “general society.”

As well as uncovering the stories of 100 individuals,100 Portraits aims to redefine the art of modern portrait photography, which has arguably been forgotten in favour of the selfie. In an increasingly digital world and the age of social media, Huawei wants to encourage millennials, and all smartphone users, to look beyond the screen to consider the outside world and consider people’s stories.

Tim Williams.

“Campaigns such as 100 Portraits give us the chance to capture and understand the stories of people you may not usually engage with,” says Stu Robertson, Huawei 100 Portraits photographer. “Portrait photography is an incredible medium that is known for its ability to capture and convey emotion. It’s entirely possible to capture moving, brilliant imagery using a smartphone alone.”

The project isn’t all that Huawei is doing in the Land of the Long White Cloud. The P10 and P10 Plus are the world’s first smartphones to offer te reo Māori as a standard operating language, and in March this year Huawei announced it will invest up to $400 million toward research and development in New Zealand over the next five years, with plans to work with local partners to build a New Zealand Cloud Data Centre, open an Innovation Lab in both Christchurch and the Victoria University of Wellington, and extend the Future University Student Programme to 100 ICT students.

“New Zealand is a very important market for Huawei and it is important that we continue to build a strong relationship here,” says Louie Hu, service and PR manager for Huawei New Zealand’s Consumer Business Group. “We value and want to understand the people here and believe every Kiwi has a story to tell. With 100 Portraits, we aim to use our exceptional camera to highlight the stories of 100 incredible people.”

Dankyn Bong.

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Check out some of the portraits below:

Kate McIlroy

Olympian (Beijing 2008)

“I had to really fight to get the results I did. I had so many things thrown at me and some horrific injuries. I was dropped from squads because of injuries, and I always clawed my way back, purely because I believed that if I wasn’t injured I could be one of the best athletes in the world.  I’ve had people come up to me and say they couldn’t believe that I kept going. But I’ve always been fixated on that one dream of being at the Olympics. A lot of people had similar things happen and they gave up, but I thought, no - I’ll regret it when I’m 80 years old if I give up. If people say no to me, it makes me want to come back and prove them wrong.

Running was always my dream. That was my thing, and I’d qualified as a runner for the Beijing Olympics, but I had a big injury. Everything came crashing down. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to make it, so I was at a crossroads with my life. I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a runner, so I decided that I would give triathlon a go. Having to change sports and get up to speed at a world class level was a big challenge, but I just found a coach, found a swim squad, got a bike and was just pretty determined to get there. I made it – I made it to the Olympics, and to two Commonwealth Games. It’s not until a few years after you’ve finished competing and can think, wow, I’ve actually done something amazing. At the time, because I wanted it so badly, I didn’t take it all in and enjoy it as much as I should have but now I’m a bit older and my body doesn’t play ball as much, I realise the level that I was at was pretty amazing.

Just last year I went mountain biking and I went down a steep bank and freaked out halfway through. When I braked, I flipped off the bike and where the hamstring attaches to pelvis ripped off so it was basically floating in my leg. I had to have it surgically reattached, and the recovery from that was months and months. At the time, I was trying to get to the Rio Olympics but I had to give it up. Now, I’m still competing at quite a high level with cycling, while working in marketing at Xero, which is an amazing company to be involved with. It’s different when you go from thinking about your body every day and training and that’s all you do, to having that priority gone and working towards something completely different, just shifting your focus, really.  As a sportsperson, you’re doing something you love every single day of your life and it’s hard to find that passion again for something else, but I’m slowly getting there. I’m pretty hard on myself, I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to in sport and I could have always been better - but I think that’s what makes you get up and train every day.”

Aidan Jurgens

“Towards the end of my first semester, symptoms of Crohn's disease started coming back. I didn’t want to be set back with my study if I had to take time off for hospital visits so decided to take a semester off and ended up with the company I’m with now. During my 2 ½ years here I’ve been through countless hospital and specialist visits, 4 or 5 surgeries and I have 8 weekly infusions to keep my Crohn's disease at bay.

I’m sick. Historically, every time I’ve started doing well at something I go through a bad period of health and get set back to square one. I don’t feel I can bet too much on myself to reach a long-term career goal – I might get sick again at any time.

Growing up I was pretty good at football. I played for Taranaki 12th grade reps. Following my first surgery and diagnosis of Crohn’s at age 14 I was no longer the best at my passion and found it hard to be the one sitting on the bench unable to play. I gave up for years and always doubted my ability to play again. I recently started playing again and am glad I did. It taught me to not give up on the things you love. The older you get the fewer things you’ll have to get you through.

I always wanted a wife and three kids and I’ve decided I won’t have either. If I get sick and can’t provide for them that wouldn’t be an acceptable outcome for me so I suppose it’s easier not to take the gamble. I’ll find a spot where I fit in but I’m not sure I’ll ever find happiness.”

Lauren Mann

Wellington Woman magazine owner and editor

I did a postgrad in journalism after going back to studying. I purchased the business from the old owner and I’ve been working on the magazine over the last two and a half years.

I love writing and I just wanted to write great stories. Since starting the magazine, I’ve had to deal more with the business side. But I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s made me realise how much I like the design aspects of what it takes to create a magazine. The visual aspect, organising shoots, coming up with ideas for how images will work alongside the articles.

I always just thought I was a writer, but all these different elements come together to create a story. There are parts of what I do that are incredibly frustrating – especially the business aspects. I just want to create, but that’s not realistic – especially not early on in your career. Because I do everything – book advertising, dealing with contractors and all of that – I was very naive going into it. I didn’t realise how exhausting it would be.

The most frustrating part is I can see what I want, I can see in my head what I want the magazine to look like and be. I’m just so constrained with finances and time – imagine you had an unlimited budget and team and you could create whatever you wanted your dream magazine to be. It’s frustrating not being able to achieve these things at the moment.

I’ve gotten better at self-evaluation recently. There’s a tendency to finish one thing and boom, move on to the next project. But taking some time to look back and just reflect on what you created and what you can learn for the future is really important.  Taking into account the things that made you proud, as well as the things that you could have done better, you know?

I do have a bit of a goal about where I’d like to end up. Up until the end of last year I was doing what I was doing because it’s just what I do. But now I have a wider goal, something to work towards in the future and what I eventually want to do. I like to call myself detrimentally optimistic, always thinking everything’s going to work out and be amazing. And maybe it’s not the best to be as optimistic as I always am, but I can see what I want in the future.

One of the first things I ever learned in this industry is that no one is ever going to love your project as much as you love your project. I’m happy to sink two hours into something seemingly meaningless for the magazine, where as other people won’t – and I feel like you also can’t really ask that of people either.

I’ve failed lots in my personal life. I’ve struggled with bad anxiety, when I was 24 I got diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. Looking back, I see that sometimes it was just me being a dick. But it’s interesting to see where the anxiety played a part in these moments – I mean, I didn’t even know anxiety like this was a thing until I got diagnosed with it.

Getting older, you learn to deal with it. I mean, I deal with it every single day, but it gets easier as time goes on. You just have to wait to grow up and learn.

Dan Young

Head of Developer Platform, Xero

“I’d just moved into a senior role at the bank, I was 29 years old, and I had a heart attack. It was a sobering experience. It was a wet, rainy day. I walked out of our apartment and it was raining so I ran, ran across pigeon park and got onto Gusnee Street (Wellington) under cover. I started to get this real cold feeling in my chest, a real heartache, like a sumo wrestler was sitting on my chest. It was really intense, but I just thought I was really cold, and I was on my way to my mate’s café so I thought, ‘sweet, it’s warm in there, I’m just cold, so I’ll just keep rolling, it’s all good.’ And then all of a sudden I felt this numbness down my arm and I was like ‘whatever, it’s something random’. I tried to keep going, but collapsed on the pavement, so I tried to ring my partner at the time but she didn’t answer, so I crawled home, got home, and they took me to the hospital. I only got halfway to the coffee spot.

I’m a sportsman by trade, that’s always been my thing. When I had the heart attack, I kind of had to start from square one. It’s only until recently that I’ve been fully able to get back into things. I wasn’t able to get my heart rate up too high. I felt like that was a massive fail for me because I’ve always been really active. When I couldn’t do that, that felt really shit for me. 

One thing I realised after I got sick, not in a cliché way like life’s too short and all of that stuff, but it kind of is. If people are not having a positive influence on you and your life, then why would you bother? The stability I have now makes me happy. I don’t want to have to worry about shit. It’s very stressful at work and I don’t want that when I get home. At work, I feel like I’m doing something great. I feel like it’s on the money and it so easy for me to resonate with the vision of the company. I’ve got a great life, I’m happy. I don’t need to worry about a lot of things that other people need to worry about. I’d say I’m a fighter with the shit that I’ve gone through and fighting back. Most people wouldn’t want to sink themselves into the stress that comes with my job. I’m lucky that I love what I do. Being busy at work doesn’t matter, because it’s awesome.”

Dankyn Bong

VanutauQueenstown vineyard worker

“I spend seven months a year in New Zealand, then I go home to Vanuatu. I work in a vineyard here in New Zealand and work to make money for my family in Vanuatu. The people in New Zealand are good and kind. They give me a job and help me get money to my family. I’m always happy for everything. The boss here is kind to me. He gives me a job and pays me good money. Helping my family makes me happy.”

Ina Pickering

Mother

“Sometimes people behave differently around me until I share my story. Sometimes I just go home and do my head in. I think about it, over analyse it, and lose the plot a bit. And then I come through it and deal with it. The kindest thing anyone has ever done for me is just believe in me. People who have supported me and haven’t walked away from me. My four children are what drive me and keep me going every day.”

Papa Smurf

Writer, Wellington

I arrived in New Zealand when I was 12-years-old, having been forced to leave Cyprus. I didn’t speak English and I had no money. What I did first wasn’t exactly legal, I went to the back of a store and stole batteries and lightbulbs. I sold these on the street to make a bit of cash before starting to move around New Zealand. I could only really use hand gestures – I knew how to order a drink.

I’ve been all over New Zealand. I typically don’t like to spend more than a couple weeks in a city. When I was younger I went up north to try find my birth father. I didn’t find him but I found his parents in Whangarei and spent some time up there. I love the South Island. Picton was fun, diving off the wharf and going for hikes. I actually got a job out in Blenheim. A scrap metal worker saw me at the bus station and took me back to his place for the night. He told me to come join him at work the next day so I tagged along. His boss ended up paying me so I worked there for a couple of weeks before I continued with my travels. There is always a way to make money, even if the reason isn’t there.

I’ve never been bothered by being homeless. Outside, that’s my home, you guys are just visiting. We have the biggest roof because we don’t have a roof. You do see some good and some bad. One time I was trying to hitch a ride from Auckland to Hamilton. No one picked me up so I ended up walking the whole way. When I arrived I was so tired and sore. I saw a nice little flat spot with no wind or rain so I hunkered down and fell asleep right away. Someone woke me up and said “you’re not allowed to sleep here, this spot is taken, it’s not safe”. So he showed me somewhere else to sleep and he even gave me some food. A homeless person helping another homeless person, that’s probably the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me.

But it can get tough. If you ever want to hate a cop, Auckland is the place to do it, because they’re ruthless up there, they’re brutal. I was sleeping with a female friend and a cop came up and kicked me hard in the ribs. When I wouldn’t wake up he started kicking my friend. That’s the worst thing you can do to a homeless person, kicking them while they’re asleep. Overseas, I’ve had a shotgun held to the back of my head but this was worse. I knew then that if he was going to shoot me, he would have done it right away.

Anyway, I’m here in Wellington at the moment and I’ve been here for a while. I’m happy. I’m always happy. I’m a writer, fighting the government to with my words. The best place to do it is Wellington because Parliament's here. Overall, I just want to be caring and look after my family, my kids and my street.

Peter Montgommery

Creative Director at Xero, Wellington

I’ve always been quite driven and had goals. After a brief stint in London working with some Middle East institutes I came back to New Zealand and worked at Clemenger Advertising for 13 years before getting the role of Creative Director at Xero.

I've been lucky in that I have not had too many obstacles. I kind of fell into work in the UK because the owner was looking for a young person to work with him. And after that, I found an opening at Clemenger when they had won the National Bank account and I worked on that for 6 years.

I always had a goal and a five-year plan. I wanted to work in an international city – which I achieved from working in London. Then I wanted my work to be interesting, so I looked for opportunities that had some variety in them – I didn’t want to sit behind a computer.

My advice for people who are looking to progress in the creative industries is that they should get involved, get hands-on and work your way up. You also need skill and talent. It’s important to take charge of opportunities that come your way. Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen. It’s tricky to give advice – a lot of the time I’ve moved into a vacuum and grown into a role and taken the next step from there.

As I get older I still have pride in the work I do. I want to hit those sweet spots and nail the image that I originally had in my head. But I think is important that you can pass that experience on to younger members or just give a different perspective. It’s awesome when they hit their stride and are happy of the work they have produced. I am proud of my team.

Proudest moment in my career was designing the New Zealand passport.  That was a really interesting project - working with the different layers of Government and going through the standard approval processes but also having support to push it up to the next level. It was a long project – we started it in 2007 and it finally got released in 2010.

Personally I am proud of my kids – I think most parents are.

In terms of difficulties I may have faced form people along the way – I always try to understand where people are coming from, difficulties are usually pent up frustration in a situation so I try to take the time to understand the person’s point of view.  It’s often perception or a different opinion – you have to accept that.

I love cooking and I cook for the family on the weekend. I’ll get out cookbooks and try something new.  I’m not gourmet by any means but I find simple pleasures in Chelsea Winter’s cook books. Other than that, I still like to illustrate and keep satisfying my need for variety – illustration is something I would like to do more of, particularly more motion graphics.

Failure has featured in my life – such as when I applied for a particular role and I didn’t get it.  You have to pick yourself up from that and move on.  I’ve been pretty lucky but some of those times I have got the role later, after I had grown personally and the timing was right.  You’ve got to learn from your failures, whether they are personal or work related.

I think I am doing something great. You don’t need to save the world, but make some changes, work with a team and help them to grow – that is where I find success. Seeing past designers move onto other roles and knowing I had an impact.

I feel successful every day – that’s not arrogance - but you have to be confident in what you are doing. I like to feel people have confidence in what they are doing and share that confidence around. Or find a way to see the positive in what they are doing and walk the talk.

The worst thing anyone said to me was a creative director who told me “you’re not very creative are you?” Part of me wanted to use that comment to grow my creativity but the kid inside me didn’t want to listen.

The kindest thing – my wife – it’s a huge plus when she says I’ve done something good.

I’m a fighter. I think all fighters know how keep fighting for what they believe in, they get up but also know when to tap out!

Richie Hardcore

Public speaker and advocacy worker, MMA fighter

“I’m super passionate about what I do, public speaking and advocacy work – it doesn’t feel like work to me. I always feel proud when I can see the work I’m doing have a positive effect on someone’s life.

When a kid messages me on the internet and says they resonate with something I said or something that I wrote, and it made them want to stay alive another day – that’s what I take pride in, and what makes it all worthwhile.

I’m driven to make positive impacts on people and their lives. But I’ve also got a lot of people I want to prove wrong! I’m just one insignificant person in this huge world, but if I can make a tiny difference in my community – maybe that will help someone who will go on to make a huge difference on a bigger platform. I think everyone wants to make the world a better place and I’m just playing my role in that.

When you put yourself out there and talk about contentious things, political things, sometimes you get it wrong. Sometimes I don’t think about the nuances of my language or message, and people are quick to condemn you for getting it wrong – which I can understand. But I’m also trying my best to understand and dismantle those systems that marginalise and discriminate against parts of society.

Unfortunately, progressive movements can turn on themselves. So how do we allow a broad spectrum of thought within the umbrella of progressive politics? We can agree to disagree sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all come together to change things for everyone.

Sometimes you do just want to quit, you know? I’m no one, just one dude. But when you hear encouragement from people – whether you know them in real life or they’re a stranger on the internet – it’s what you need to keep going, to keep trying to make a difference.

I’ve come to accept my imperfections and understand that we’re all complicated and nuanced, and all have these idiosyncrasies – which was something I used to struggle with. You know, why am I so oversensitive and anxious? But that’s just part of my story.

I like being open and honest publicly, because then it encourages other people to also be open and honest. We all go through the same shit, we all think we’re unique in our struggle – and we do all have our own personal elements – but we all feel scared and want to connect and be loved, right? 

I used to be like ‘Yeah, fuck society. Let’s throw stones’, but now I realise I’m part of this machine. It has benefitted me and I’m grateful for my education, the pavement I’m standing on, you know? I think society has a long way to go, and yeah I’m part of it. But I want to be part of the solution rather than the problem.”

Tim Williams

Hospitality

“I’m driven by people. That’s why I work in hospitality, because I get to deal with every type of person there is. It’s fun challenging the status quo – I mean, you can tell by my make-up and nails that I’m both a fighter and an outcast.

People treat me differently all the time, but I don’t let it get to me. Like I said, I’m a big people person and being surrounded by my friends and family helps keep me grounded and happy.

Like, the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for is when my family sent me a box full of all the things from my childhood. All the memories that came flooding back – photos, toys, teddy bears – it really was a special moment to me. And to top it all off, the box they sent it in was my great nana’s chestbox that she’d had since she was a kid herself!”