Esther Bunning’s whimsical style of photographing people may be rooted in her own childhood. She grew up on a dairy farm in Taranaki, New Zealand. Three younger sisters allowed a shy but very creative Esther to stage fairy tale adventures, with little princesses streaking on horseback through spooky pine forests, dancing with fairies and encountering fiery dragons and warlocks.
“I remember picnics, blackberry picking and making huts under hedges – I never had trouble filling my time.’’ – Esther Bunning.
Her love of atmospheric locations is surely a throwback to this rural dream world.
Esther’s son, Theodore, features in her galleries of children and his red hair has been an inspiration in using colour to show character, essence and personality.
“I used to shoot almost entirely black and white portraiture but it was having Theo that made me completely re-think… black and white simply doesn’t suit everybody and I’ve enjoyed going in the direction of colour. He’s been my starting point, my little muse.’’ – Esther Bunning.
Seated groups and crisp, still poses have their place in portraiture, Esther says, but she prefers to break the traditional rules of portraiture and to surround people with things that make them laugh, express and move. Her portraits may have soft lines, chalky hues and misty enigma, or bright pops of colour to show humour and energy. She loves to create a shoot based around an individual or a family’s passions – things that epitomise who they are.
Esther’s striking style unites her creative eye, her fluid use of colour and her knack of capturing people in their natural state, with a hint of mystery and layers of life.
Esther and her partner, photographer Terry Hann, have lived in the Wairarapa, north of Wellington, New Zealand, for the past 13 years, first in a converted chapel, now in a historic house beside a miniature railway track, and from the 1 December 2015, she’ll be working from her brand new gallery/retail studio in the centre of boutique shopping destination, Greytown. Esther’s growing reputation as the creator of imaginative portraiture has radiated around New Zealand and beyond, resulting in many recent awards.
Children of the Wairarapa is a book published in 2011 showcasing Esther’s work in children’s portraiture. It tested her flexibility and skills while working with children in a variety of landscapes, some verging on the wild! She has since self-published two additional books, based around the a collaboration with visionary choreographer, Justine Eldred: The Angel Project (2014) and Fire & Water (2015).
Esther offers shoots in the studio at her home in South Wairarapa, less than an hour’s drive from Wellington city, and outdoor/indoor sessions across New Zealand.