Breakfasts in Bondi and Sundays in Siberia for Kiwi photographer Derek Henderson
New Zealander photographer Derek Henderson rates his career shooting fashion, travel and art photography as mediocre, but a quick look at his credentials and it’s plain to see he’s being coy. He’s carved out a name for himself shooting fashion campaigns and is in high demand around the globe. You may not recognise his face, but most Kiwis would have seen his recent work photographing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for the March issue of US Vogue.
During his career he’s travelled extensively and lived in London, New York, Copenhagen, Munich and Los Angeles. In 2006, he put down roots in Sydney to raise a family, but despite living overseas for more than 30 years he tells Laura Baker, he is still a proud Kiwi.
Because I travel so much I really like routine when I’m home, in fact I love it. On Sundays my wife Kate, daughter Lola,11, son Theo, 4, and I will go down to our favourite cafe in Bondi to eat a nice healthy breakfast and often in the summer we’ll head to the beach after and go for a swim. Then, we might go to the Bondi Markets, at the Bondi Beach Public School, which is the school my daughter goes to. We’ll buy some local produce then go home to laze about.
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I’ve photographed politicians in the past and they often just want to get it over and done with and I understand that, but Jacinda was different. I thought she was incredibly engaging with everybody, which I found quite surprising and she seemed really interested in the process. When it’s the prime minister you’re very aware they’ve got a lot on so I try to be quick. I focused on directing her so she felt comfortable in front of the camera and comfortable with the way she was presenting herself and the time went pretty quickly.
I spend a lot of the year on the road for work. I went to Siberia, Russia, last year. We went to a place called Kamchatka Peninsula and we were there for three weeks shooting for Condé Nast Traveler. Before that I was in Paris shooting an advertising campaign for the champagne board. I can’t really talk about upcoming work, but a possible assignment I’ve got coming up for Condé Nast Traveler is a three week shoot in the Congo, Africa. I’m also going back to France at end of the month to shoot for The Wall Street Journal. I’ll be photographing Maya Hoffman who is a philanthropist in the art world. I’m going to shoot some portraits of her in the South of France.
Everybody, even if they don’t like to admit it, wears an armour. The clothes they wear and how they present themselves to the world is their armour. I present myself as a pretty scruffy, laidback person. I’m not too fussed about what people think of me. When you’re behind the camera you can get away with being a scruffy photographer. In my shorts, jandals and unshaven I’m happy. If you look at my clothes you wouldn’t think I’m into fashion, but I’m very aware of it and I appreciate beautiful clothes on other people. I enjoy seeing people make an effort, I appreciate those who want to try different things and say different things.
I’ve spent the majority of my life living outside of New Zealand. I left in 1987 and I haven’t lived there since, but I come back all the time to see the family. When people ask me where I’m from I tell them I’m a Kiwi. I’m proud of that fact and I identify as a New Zealander. I grew up in Hawkes Bay and I make a point of supporting the Hurricanes and the All Blacks. I’m looking at property in New Zealand because I’d like to have a place there that I call home, but we’d still have our place in Sydney too.
My way of staying in touch with New Zealand is by working there as much as I can. I just did a campaign in New Zealand for Partridge Jewellers and I’ve been shooting for Rodd and Gunn for the past 12 years. I also regularly shoot for Nature Baby. I love coming back to New Zealand to work.
I’ve never been the most popular photographer and I have moments where I don’t feel successful at all. I’ve always been a little under the radar, but I’ve got longevity. I’ve stuck to what I wanted to photograph and I didn’t follow the trends or the latest styles. I’ve tried to develop a style so when people look at a picture they can say ‘Derek Henderson took that picture’. It took me a long time to get to where I am, but in the last few years it has really been paying off.
At the end of my career I don’t want to be remembered for anything. I think it’s more about enjoying yourself from day to day. I like just doing what I do and getting on with it. Maybe if I was remembered for anything it would be for being a good father.