Nelson snapper scoops NZ’s most coveted photography award

Superb 'street photography' storytelling sees splendidly moustachoied Nelsonian Braden Fastier win New Zealand's premier photographic prize. Meanwhile, Ruru Guru Grant Nicholson’s adorable image of two fledgling morepork takes out the Ockham People's Choice Award.

New Zealand’s most prestigious photography competition, New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year, has been won by Nelson-based photographer Braden Fastier for a broad portfolio of social documentary.

Fastier, a photojournalist for Stuff, won Nikon Photographer of the Year for the first time, and took home the Resene Colour award too.

His images were rich with colour and context, were technically strong and demonstrated an original and imaginative approach to photojournalism, says New Zealand Geographic publisher, General James Frankham. “Fastier’s pictures captured a second level of meaning—the humour of red tape around a pair of concrete playground seals, a mask on a statue, phone calls on a golf course—the odd-ball realities of life in Aotearoa in 2021 that go some way towards understanding the year that has been.”

“His approach borrows from street photography, but with the discipline and knack for storytelling of a photojournalist—all values that make Braden Fastier a worthy holder of the title Photographer of the Year 2021.”

"Images a reflection of our resilience as a nation..."

New Zealand Geographic received more than 6000 entries into Photographer of the Year this season—a record in the competition’s 13-year history.

“2021 started out as a cure for 2020, but in many ways it felt like history repeating," General Frankham continued. "This was reflected in the entries we received. There were images of more lockdowns, more protests, and the cultural themes were a close match to last year too—COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and a process of adapting to smaller and more isolated lives.

“The images were a reflection of our resilience as a nation, our creativity and determination. There were landscapes of quiet solitude, without the rush of tourists.”

General James Frankham

“The images were also a reflection, however, of our resilience as a nation, our creativity and determination. There were landscapes of quiet solitude, without the rush of tourists. There were images of smaller circles of family and friends. Even images of wildlife were quiet, careful studies of behaviour that were marked by the patience of the photographer.”

As always, however, it wasn’t the images of the familiar that stood out, but rather those that showed the viewer something unexpected, unusual or from an original perspective that made the judges’ cut of 50. These are the finest images of the past year.

Ruru guru wins Ockham People's Choice award

The public have had their say too, voting on the 50 finalists for the Ockham People’s Choice award. This year, from more than 28,000 public votes, the winner was Grant Nicholson’s image of two fledgling morepork, or ruru, in a local Auckland bush reserve which he visited regularly over the course of several weeks of lockdown.

The Young Photographer of the Year award was claimed by Mattheus Elwood, with a vibrant, graphic and powerful visual language that feels contemporary and of the moment.

Other winners include Danilo Hegg for a dramatic image of a rare velvet worm shot in Turangi, William Patino who won the Resene Landscape category for the second year running with a frame of Fiordland’s Hollyford Valley in a blizzard, and George Heard’s picture of a wheelchair-bound reveller held aloft on the shoulders of friends at a Hagley Park concert. Ralph Piezas won the Progear Photostory category for a documentary on his own work with autistic boys. The winning Lightforce Aerial image belonged to Hunter Smith for his image of wilding pines, and the newest category, Resene Built Environment, was won by student Matthew Connolly for his study of architect John Scott’s Futuna Chapel.

2021 Winners

📷 Nikon Photographer of the Year Braden Fastier
📷 Young Photographer of the Year Mattheus Elwood
📷 Ockham People’s Choice Award Grant Nicholson
📷 Resene Colour Award Braden Fastier
📷 Electric Kiwi Wildlife Danilo Hegg
📷 Resene Landscape William Patino
📷 Lumix Society George Heard
📷 Resene Built Environment Matthew Connolly
📷 Progear PhotoStory Ralph Piezas
📷 Lightforce Aerial Hunter Smit