Interview: Photographer Documents the Beauty of Childhood Spent Without Modern Devices

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

Photographer Niki Boon is interested in a slower-paced life. Occupying 10 acres of land in the rural New Zealand countryside, she and her family have crafted their own world that’s in tune with nature and largely unconcerned with being tethered by technology. Boon’s four children, all home-schooled, reserve their use of screens for educational purposes and spend the rest of their time taking care of their menagerie, playing outside, and running barefoot—and ultimately living carefree.

Boon’s “fascination with photography” began while taking a course in Scotland. “I still remember the magic of the darkroom and producing my very own prints,” she recalls. Although this enthusiasm waned upon returning to New Zealand (and no access to a darkroom), Boon was motivated to start snapping photos with the birth of her first child. “I, like a lot of mothers, enjoyed documenting the children’s first days, months, and years,” she explains, “but it was with the decision to educate our children alternatively that my photography took on more of a focus.”

The black-and-white photos offer a peek into a lifestyle that’s quickly becoming unconventional. Striking in their compositions and visual contrast, the documentary-style images highlight how childhood can be both messy, fun, and just a bit strange when you're living without social media.

Boon’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. is called Summer. It’s now on view at the Obscura Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico until July 27, 2019. Scroll down for My Modern Met's exclusive interview with Boon, where she shares what you can expect from the show as well more about her family life on bucolic land.

Children and Family Photography by Niki Boon

You and your husband decided to pursue an alternative education route for your kids. How did you come to that decision?

My eldest attended a Waldorf school, but we were always of the view that we would like to involve him in anything interesting going on in the community which often involved removing him from school for a day or two. When the teacher said to us that this was “hindering his education,” along with other aspects of the school that we were uncomfortable with…we decided that perhaps school wasn’t the right place for us as a family.

Is this the same or different to how you were brought up?

I was brought up in a very rural part of New Zealand, and I did attend a small school for all my school-aged life, so no home-schooling for me.

Children and Family Photography by Niki Boon

Can you describe a typical day for you and your family? 

It is difficult to describe a “typical” day as they all vary so much, as I'm sure they do for most people. Our days start with the gradual rise up of each person… breakfast chaos… and then attending to the animals on the property—always the first priority of the day. Then it varies wildly depending on what everyone has planned for their days. Maybe meeting up with friends, in the summer it will often involve an adventure of some type, up to the river, or to the beach, or maybe a hike through the mountains, or a trip to the lakes. Sometimes it's just filing our days at home with our animals, in our own space. My kids love to read, so there is often a lot of that going on at some stage of the day.

We gather at mealtimes, with whoever is around at that time.

Children and Family Photography by Niki Boon

You keep many of the trappings of today's youth out of reach—a computer is used as an education tool. Have you noticed any striking differences between your children and other kids who regularly use smartphones, play video games, etc.?

It’s hard to comment… a lot of the families that we are close to raise their children with a similar approach. When I see my children with others who bring their children up with regular use of devices I am not sure I can see any obvious differences… I guess kids are inherently just kids at the end of the day. As my kids are getting older now their needs are changing and they are choosing to include more use of computers etc. to access the services and information they need to pursue their various activities… but it has been a gradual inclusion, which is nice.

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

The property in which you and your family live looks absolutely bucolic. What is the environment like? 

We are very lucky to have this 10 acres of ours. We have enough land to house 2 horses, several goats, sheep, chickens, ducks a couple of dogs and a (very) small vineyard, which give us plenty to keep us busy. We also have a small pond down the back of the property which has been a great source of play and fun for our children over the years.

Do you have a lot of neighbors?

We do have neighbors, but they aren’t right next door. My kids have friends that are maybe 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) away and are now old enough to independently bike to visit.

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

How often are you with your camera to photograph these candid moments? 

My camera sits on a bookshelf in our living room and I will grab it if I feel there is something interesting, to me, going on at any time during the day. It isn’t every day, but sometimes it is several times a day (especially in the summer months).

How do you know when to hit the shutter and capture the photo?

It’s hard to say when the right time is… Sometimes, I know it when I push the shutter; sometimes, it is only after when I am editing that I see it. Often, it is an expression of a gesture of some description the way a body lies or is held that speaks to me.

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

What is the appeal to shooting in black and white?

I have long had an attraction to black and white imagery, well before I even attempted to create my own. I think the removal of color adds a layer of mystery and question in a picture that really appeals to me.

What is your advice for anyone that would like to shoot documentary-style images?

I think the piece of advice that has had the most impact for me is to shoot more, a LOT more, especially when you don’t “feel” it, or when you think there is nothing to shoot… keep shooting… it is pushing through the tough parts that the greatest growth has happened for me.

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

Summer is your first solo exhibition in the United States. What can viewers expect to see when they visit it?

I have been so lucky to have met Jennifer at Obscura Gallery. She has an amazing gallery and manages to blend displays of Native American Indian artifact collection with photographic prints so that they support and highlight the prints graphical qualities and stories they contain. I enjoyed the experience very much when I was there in June.

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

Black and White Children's Photography by Niki Boon

Niki Boon: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Niki Boon. 

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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