A life in photographs

12 January 2023

Michael Tubberty with some of his iconic photographs

When Dame Whina Cooper set off hand-in-hand with her granddaughter down a long gravel road in Te Hapua as part of the 1975 Māori land march, she had no idea she was about to become the subject of one of Aotearoa’s most iconic photos.

But renowned New Zealand photographer, Michael Tubberty had an inkling he had just captured something extraordinary.

“I had taken a few shots at the start of the hikoi and handed my raw film over to be flown back to the office. I jumped in the car to catch up to the march and happened across Dame Whina Cooper and Irenee at exactly the right moment.

“I knew then I was sitting on something special.”

The multi-award-winning photojournalist has captured many remarkable moments in time throughout his 40-year career with the New Zealand Herald.

Amongst the most memorable was covering Pope John Paul II during his visit to New Zealand and meeting the Royal Family during their Commonwealth Tours.

“I remember (the then) Prince Charles turning to me on a sugar cane field in Fiji and saying, ‘you’ve grown a beard since the last time I saw you’. I thought, isn’t that remarkable, that he would remember my face.”

Michael’s natural talent and flair for storytelling has taken him across the globe and seen him work for some of the UK’s most prestigious newspapers.

“I was working for the Waitemata Electric Power Board and taking photos for the Western Leader for free when I saw the advertisement to work for the New Zealand Herald. I applied and got the job in 1964 when I was 25.

“Three years later the Commonwealth Press Union awarded me with a scholarship to study newspaper photography at Oxford University. I worked for The Times, The Sunday Times, The Belfast Telegraph, and the Press Association and photographed everyone who was anyone.

“I used to walk down the street and all these people would say hello to me. I realised I’d photographed them at one point or another.”

Michael’s lifelong work has seen him capture some of the biggest events in New Zealand history, as well as smaller, more intimate moments.

“Some of my favourite shots were the more candid moments. A father taking a smoko break with his son on an old railway track, or a young man’s joy at feeling the rain on his face.

“As well as sharing the hard news, I was an entertainer. If we’re doing our job right, we should be entertaining people.”

Although the Waitākere Gardens resident has since put down his lens, a lifetime of memories captured on film remain as one of his most prized possessions.

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