UCOL | Te Pūkenga photography learners claimed 29 awards at the 2023 New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Awards, while lecturer Paul Gummer received a special award for his service to the industry.
The Iris Awards are New Zealand's premier annual photography awards and attract professional and student photographers from around the country.
Learners from UCOL's New Zealand Diploma in Photography Levels 5 and 6, and Certificate in Intermediate Photography submitted entries for the competition. The judging and awards gala dinner took place in Christchurch.
UCOL ākonga (learners) took home one gold, two silvers with distinction, 11 silvers, 11 bronzes, and four professional standard awards.
UCOL Photography Senior Lecturer Paul Gummer received the Silver Spool Award for service to the photography industry. Gummer first attended the Iris Awards in 1998 and has only missed the event three times in the past 25 years. He has been a mainstay in helping UCOL students set up their entries, guiding them through the judging process, and offering support and advice to up-and-coming photographers.
Gummer says that UCOL has been very supportive in allowing him, his colleagues, and learners to work behind the scenes at the Iris Awards.
"The awards only happen as a result of the huge amount of voluntary work behind the scenes. We have used these awards as a centerpiece to our photography programmes to introduce students to the professional world and at the same time give them an opportunity to shine."
Gummer got his start as a photographer in the late 1980s, photographing for architects and architectural magazines in and around London. He and his family moved to New Zealand in 1997, and he started teaching at UCOL the following year.
For Gummer, some of his most memorable moments from the Iris awards include seeing UCOL staff and learners win awards and introducing learners to some of their photographic heroes, who themselves are UCOL graduates.
"Our students have won the New Zealand Student Photographer of the Year 15 times in the 25 years we have been attending. That only happens with a huge amount of hard work by students and staff."
UCOL learner Katie Shand was a finalist in the student category and received a gold, two silvers, and a bronze award.
Shand's gold award-winning photo shows two people celebrating a birthday on separate levels of a doll house. The piece started off as a composite photo assignment designed to enhance Shand's Photoshop skills.
"I wanted to put little Easter eggs in there so people could tell it was a doll house. That's how I got the idea for the licorice allsort as a birthday cake. There is also a padlock as a handbag, and a matchstick acting as a candle. There are a few things in there where I got to experiment with scale," says Shand.
"After I photographed the girl, I was looking at the doll house and I thought it would be cute to expand the narrative by having another person in another room.
"The judges all had different narratives in their heads, but it's just about two people who, for whatever reason, can't be together but they're still celebrating."
Shand was unable to attend the awards event, but was excited to hear her name announced while she watched the judging live on YouTube .
"When I got the gold award I stood up and had a little yay moment. It was really encouraging. I've never really won anything before, so it is great for my confidence. It's scary to have your work judged by professional photographers, but I'm really happy with the outcome."
Currently living in Whanganui, Shand aims to start her own photography business in the city after she graduates and work on more community projects.