New Zealand 

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(1985, Taitoko (Levin), Aotearoa New Zealand) Leala Faleseuga (Sāmoa, Salelologa / Dutch, Limburg and Friesland) is a photographer and multidisciplinary artist from Aotearoa, New Zealand. Her practice is rooted in photography, alternative processing, analog-digital cycles, and painting, and currently includes audio-visual and video work, digital collage, and writing. As an artist, she works and exhibits solo and as a part of the 7558 Collective and the Te Awahou Collective. Her work often muses on dualities and layers, identity, memory, archives & artifacts, and diasporic and intimate everyday narratives. Photography, particularly documentary photography and photojournalism, has been the bedrock of Faleseuga’s practice since the beginning. She first picked up a camera as a child, inspired by the photojournalism she saw in her parents’ magazines. Faleseuga is a recent participant of VII Academy’s Pacific Digital Storytellers cohort, under the tutelage of Christopher Morris and Raymond Sagapolutele. She is fascinated with the changing technology of photography and moving images, particularly lo-fi and easily accessible tech, and often will work and re-work pieces through repeating analog-digital cycles. Faleseuga is also a librarian and a māmā.  

“Malaefatu / Malaetā”

Malaefatu / Malaetā documents the lives of Rune (Malefatu) and Lyra (Maletā), identical 6-year-old twins. Captured over five months spanning 2022/2023, it takes place in a small town in Aotearoa, New Zealand, during the summer months. Photographed by their mother, this project is a tender observation from within, a record of their interactions and vignettes of their everyday life. 

The images depict childhood, sibling/sisterhood, ‘aiga’ (family), and the unique essence of twinship. Woven throughout is a reverence for the quiet beauty of the domestic and mundane, a parent’s love, and the gentle acceptance of the inevitability of time. Lyra and Rune are Aotearoa-born and are of Sāmoan, Māori, and Dutch (Salelologa / Ngāi Tūhoe / Te Āti Awa / Limburg / Friesland).

Through seemingly simple images, I think people can understand wider narratives, remember their own experiences, or just feel closer to the fundamental human experience. The experiences we have in our lives always feeds back into the larger web of humanity.

Interview

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

This project was completed while under the mentorship of Christopher Morris and Raymond Sagapolutele as part of the VII Academy Pacific Digital Storytellers Program, and for me it represented a chance to return to my first love, which has always been documentary photography and photojournalism. I was excited to return to using my camera to observe, record and document, and I was first and foremost inspired by the work of my mentors and their guidance.  

In considering a project for our 12–16-week program, I knew I needed a subject that I could return to often and regularly, so I could really work and rework the project. In my previous documentary work I had always felt that the quality of my project and images was impacted by the quality of the relationship I could build with my subjects; some of my best work had come from long-term projects of family. I know this isn’t always a luxury one has when documenting, and learning from Chris who is a purist, who has sometimes fleeting moments to capture impactful narrative, I knew that you could build rapport and relationships in moments, but sometimes you just have to take the photos. To give myself the best chance of producing work weekly, so I could benefit from the critique and the feedback of my mentors, I decided I would document what was known to me, close to me and easily accessible, which turned out to be my daughters. When floating different project ideas and test shots, it was the images of my twins that caught everyone the most and hence the project began.  

I have always been taken with the intimate, the domestic, I find them compelling subjects, as well as the internal narrative present in any family or close group dynamic. Truth be told, I have been documenting my family always, as I have the compulsion that many of us havewe just have to preserve and record with our cameras. Having the unique angle of having identical twins provided an element of interest, and I tasked myself with documenting their everyday lives, their quiet interactions, and their bond. And through those seemingly simple images, I think people can relate or see wider narratives, or their own experiences, or just links back to the human experience.  

In regard to research, Chris and Raymond gave us wonderful resources, photographera, documentaries, websites, inspirations to ensure our minds and therefore our practices were fertile. I already had many photographers that I’ve been inspired by over the years, such as Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin, Evotia Tamua, Glen Jowitt, Mark Adams, Salgado, Miguel Rio Branco, Mel Phillipsthe list really could go on and on. really enjoyed being exposed to more photographersbecause I am just fascinated by how we look and see through the viewfinder can produce different results.  

The process was very simple. Once the topic was decided, I spend the summer documenting my daughters. I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, capturing as much as possible without disturbing them, but of course that isn’t always possible, and the presence of a camera and a photographer, once noted, always does change the dynamic. I looked for the interactions that spoke to their twinship in particular. Having the chance to sink my teeth into a longer-term project was awesome, as was the challenge to look at my daughters through the viewfinder, with a photographer’s eye, and see what I might otherwise miss day to day.  

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

For me, this is a love letter to my daughters through the art of photographing and documenting. I am very fond of capturing intimate, quiet and domestic narratives, and sharing them as art. I think the moments and experiences we have in our lives always feed back into the larger humanity of life, and there are often themes in the seemingly small that actually resonate widely.  

 I am also very aware that time passes us by very quickly; there is an omnipresent inevitability about it, and as a parent documenting my daughters in this time offers a chance to stop time.  

I also hope that people will get a glance into a slice of small-town life from here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that I capture the unique nature of being twins.   

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how? 

Absolutely! This whole project was completed during my VII Academy Pacific Digital Storytellers program. This meant I had the amazing mentorship and feedback of Chris and Raymond each week, helping critique the images and the project direction, offering suggestions and points of reference, and just keeping me going. The program was really amazing to be part of, and for me it was a beautiful return to documentary photography / photojournalis, after a long foray into more of a Fine Arts direction for my photographic practice. It was a blissful return as documentary photography / photojournalism has always been my first love, and it was the reason I picked up the family camera as a child in the first place. I was inspired by the photography in my parents National Geographic and Time magazines.