Meet Fairlie Atkinson: how she turned her travel snaps into a career whilst helping charities

Fairlie Atkinson with her students
Fairlie Atkinson with her students

Where and when did your photography journey start?

I think it started when I moved to South Korea in 2002 and became quite snap happy with my film camera. I was obsessed with the idea of being able to capture what I saw and preserve it so I didn’t forget it.

I was also keen to bore relatives with hundreds of photos in a vain attempt at showing where I had been. I wanted to share my experience of Asian architecture, cuisine, street culture, and landscapes with those back at home.

I was, however, very disappointed with what I captured. While I may have gotten the composition right, I always felt I had lacked capturing the colour or texture of the moment. This continued when I moved to the Middle East where I tried mobile device photography. It wasn’t until I was gifted a Nikon D3300 from a friend when I moved back to New Zealand a few years ago, that I began to see there was the possibility of actually being able to manipulate my camera to capture what my eyes saw. I am still learning and experimenting, but I am loving the journey.

Nature, and especially bird photography is important to you now, tell us about that...

I blame genetics. My grandmother and my father and now me, have created gardens that are designed to encourage our native birds to thrive. We have all planted native plants such as kowhai trees and flax that attract and feed our birds. My father has also built us some sugar water feeders for the nectar feeders, and in the winter we supplement their food source with these.

It gives me enormous pleasure to watch everything from the tiny waxeyes to the large comical kereru and everything in between enjoying our gardens. The birdsong is the first thing I hear in the morning and the last, as we have a resident ruru who calls to his mate around bedtime every night. It’s our small contribution to our environment, and to the unique birdlife that flourishes in New Zealand.