Real life in the valley

TAMARIKI: Children in the Teepa whanau keep an eye on newborn piglets.

Every summer, Tatsiana Chypsanava and her 12 year-old daughter make the trip back to the Ruatoki Valley to spend time with the Teepa whanau.

Tatsiana, a photographer at the Nelson Provincial Museum, has been documenting these trips for the past five years and they have become an adopted family for her. Their bond feels palpable in her latest set of images, which captures their summer days in a way that’s full of joy and curiosity.

The images are vignettes of time spent at swimming holes, exploring the farm, and relaxing together at home. All of these moments — intimate, warm, magical — are photographed by Tatsiana in a style that is unguarded and honest.

In October, she won New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year in the ProGear Photo Story category for her series on the family. Having been a finalist on three other occasions, she was overjoyed when she heard the news.

“It was amazing, it was incredible,” she says. “I still can’t believe it!”

Tatsiana first met the family when one of her friends, a daughter in the Teepa family, invited her over to their home for Easter in 2014. Since that first visit, the two families have grown even closer, with Tatsiana being told to come back whenever she wishes. She has taken them up on the offer and she tries to go back a few times a year.

Originally from Belarus, Tatsiana appreciates the familial bonds she has been able to share with them.

“You know, when you’re an immigrant in another country it’s not always easy to get back to see family for Christmas,” Tatsiana says.

“We love going back to Ruatoki. We love the children, the whanau. And they love having us. Sometimes the kids are even like: Did you bring your camera? Will you take pictures of us?”

Tatsiana considers it a joy and a privilege to get to know this family through photographing them. She also thinks images like these are important for other New Zealanders to see.

“I photograph my relationship with this whanau, our life, and the life of those in Ruatoki. I guess you don’t often see images like this in the media. Ten years ago, it was only negative portrayals of Tuhoe,” she says, referring to the raids on Ruatoki in 2007.

Looking ahead, Tatsiana plans on spending Christmas with her second family and hopes to come back to Whakatane as well. Earlier this year Tatsiana, along with fellow artist Hannah Bremner, completed a five week Volcanic Artist in Residency in Whakatane.

“We’ve applied for the exhibition this year at the Whakatane museum, as part of the outcome of our Volcanic artist Residency, and we are really hoping we can get in,” she says. “I love coming back to the Bay of Plenty and Whakatane, I just love it!”

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