How New Zealand dresses: Meet the photographer capturing South Auckland’s style

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Front yard portraits capture a unique and inspiring style subculture.

Geoffrey Matautia

Front yard portraits capture a unique and inspiring style subculture.

This story is part of the Stuff Festival of Fashion, presented by Samsung. See more of the festival here.

The best fashion images tend to capture a moment in time, a showcase of how we dress. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian on the cover of voguea reflection of our image culture as a celebrity-obsessed and curated brand, a locked down fashion shoot featuring a model captured on Zoom, or a classic street style, these images can act as a sort of style time capsule.

Sometimes the simplest approach can be the most thoughtful. Geoffery Matautia’s front yard series was a photo essay that began last year, with the Manurewa-based photographer taking striking portraits of his south Auckland friends outside their homes – standing strong in t-shirts to slogan, Layplan hoodies, yellow Crocs and puletasi.

To me, these simple, intimate photos say so much more about how young people dress and about ‘New Zealand fashion’ than most of the fashion editorial/magazine photos I see these days; a demonstration of authentic style from a community that plays and has always played an important role in shaping Aotearoa’s creative and style industries.

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Matautia, who is also known to his community on Instagram and TikTok as @southsidesstarted taking the portraits in October 2020, out of boredom during the lockdown – leaving to safely photograph portraits of his friends and asking them what they were looking forward to in the summer.

The response to the photos was immediate and positive, so he decided to make a series of them.

“I think people resonated because the concept and execution was so simple and light,” says Matautia. “It was authentic in the way the photos looked and in the process of taking them, how they ‘posed’ and even the wording of the captions that came with them.

“One big thing I wanted to avoid was the negative aspects of the lockdown because others were already talking about it.”

Significantly, Matautia has focused its focus on its South Auckland community – a community that has been hugely affected by the various Covid outbreaks and has been the victim of much online hate.

Instead, these portraits celebrate and uplift. And yes: at its most basic and frivolous level, present incredibly cool fashion.

Matautia admits he didn’t think about the fashion aspect of his images because the instruction of what to wear was so simple – “wear what he felt comfortable” – and so clothing and surroundings were secondary to the subject.

But looking back, he can see recurring items and themes: like oversized clothing, and “vibrating and supporting local brands associated with classic socks and tap shoes.”

“I just think the South Auckland style is comfortable,” he says. “Everyone is always on a mission, whether it’s running errands for your family or going out to eat with your friends.”

Rather than see how his photos might reflect a special New Zealand style subculture, Matautia is more interested in commenting on the “effortlessly cool” style of young creatives from the various art collectives that are springing up in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“You kind of envy their confidence, especially working with mostly Pacific youngsters who are usually the artistic black sheep of their families,” he says. “It’s cool to see them explore and express their creativity through what they create but also what they wear.”

He has an up close and personal perspective on much of this: alongside his flourishing photography career, Matautia works as a project coordinator in the Pacific Advancement Office at Auckland University of Technology (he shares lots of funny information on his TikTok).

He is also part of the lively art collective called Raroboys, a group of 10 creators and Pasifika friends who are part of Tāmaki Makaurau’s exciting young art scene. They recently opened an exhibition at the Māngere Arts Center (open until March 27), with some of Matautia’s front yard photos proudly displayed alongside other illustration, painting, graphic design and photography work.

Like Matautia’s work and creative approach, the show, titled ‘Raroboys & Friends’, is a real collaborative affair with Raroboys bringing in other young creative collectives to showcase their work – some as young as 16 and are still studying at school.

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