"THIS IS MY HOME, THIS IS MY HOOD! THIS IS WHERE I'M FROM"
– Qiane Matata-Sipu
Mapping Creative Hustle is a series of interviews with creative entrepreneurs connected to the Māngere Ōtāhuhu area. The interviewed were conducted by Ema Tavola with portrait photography by Vinesh Kumaran.
In your own words, what do you do for a living?
I need to find a new word for ‘storyteller’. I used to love it but now everyone uses it. I guess it’s just the best way to describe what I do: I’m a writer, I’m a photographer but, I’m also a creative who makes things. I guess for me, I love to meet people and tell their stories. Connect them with the world and the world with them; whether that be through photographing them, their business, their family or, writing about them.
So, ‘storyteller’ is the easiest way to describe it. I’m just a little bit over that word, I have to think of a new one.
Why do you do what you do?
I’m a naturally inquisitive person. I’m nosey and I’m proud of being nosey! Plus, I’ve always been a talker. I think though, more than anything, it’s really a personal thing; I get a lot of enjoyment out of doing what I do, I get a lot of fulfilment out of it. Sometimes sharing a story that is particularly hard for someone, helps them in a way, as well as others who may be going through something similar.
I also love making things beautiful. I absolutely love going out and photographing people and seeing their confidence grow throughout a photoshoot, and then creating really amazing images, or documenting really amazing moments of them; with their children, with their families, businesses or, with a garment that they’ve created.
I like to be creative, I like to be inquisitive, and I really love to talk and meet people! I’m all about people. My work revolves around people and that’s where I get a lot of my enjoyment in life from.
Have you had an epiphany that has led you to this path in life?
There was a moment in my life when I thought, I really just need to do this for myself. For starters, I’m a natural leader, so I find it difficult to be around other people who try to lead me! I had a bit of an epiphany when I realised life would be better if I just do what I want to do, because I know I can make it work.
I’m not one of those people who likes to hustle though, I don’t go out and drive business. When people say, ‘how much do you charge?’, I’m thinking, ‘Uhh.. I don’t know! I just want to do something cool with you! And you pay me what you think, like, lots of money!’
In terms of what I do, I remember my Grandmother telling me in my teens that I should be a journalist, which made me think, I’m definitely not being a journalist! But, I decided to pursue journalism anyway. My high school careers teacher at the time was like, ‘Hmm.. what about teaching? Because the communications degree at AUT is the hardest degree, what about this, what about that…’
Its like she thought I couldn’t do it, and that made me want it even more. So, I was like, ‘Now I’m going to be a journalist and I’m going to be the best, and you can kiss my ass!’
If there was one thing you could outsource to help you do more, or be more effective, what would it be?
I used to shoot weddings over summer, from a pure documentary perspective, and when I got really busy, I’d have someone come in and cull for me. I made a preset for editing and she’d do the first round and I’d go in and tweak everything afterwards. It was really good, when I was busy, to help with workflow and deadlines.
There was also another phase in my business where I had someone come in once or twice a week and do admin. They would just clear out the enquiries, they’d be on top of my accounts, and they’d tidy my office; because I normally would have paper everywhere. So I have outsourced a couple of things in the past, but I couldn’t afford to keep an admin person and I’m not shooting weddings anymore, so I don’t need anyone to help me cull thousands of images down to hundreds.
One thing I definitely do need is an accountant, because I’m an artist, man! I’m a writer, I don’t do numbers, no way! I can’t balance books and don’t know how work out how much tax to pay – that’s just too much for me, so I’ve got an accountant who does all that stuff for me. I do my own invoicing but they do all my end of year tax and tell me how much to pay and where to pay it, and I just pay it. If you asked me how much my business is worth, I’d have to say I don’t know. I’m not that good of a business person in that sense, but that’s why I’ve got a professional to do it.
Moving ahead with the projects I want to do, I know that I need to find a skilled graphic designer for when I progress into my next phase with launching Nuku [see below for details]. Also someone to help me with audio recording and web design. If this was me two years ago, I would have tried to do it myself, but I’ve realised that it’s better for my mental health, it’s better for the business and, it’s faster, to just get someone in to do it for you. Right at the beginning, I did try and do every single thing myself, and it feels good, but actually it’s unnecessary.
Being part-time with a new baby, and trying to outsource work for a passion project, when you don’t have the money to pay this person, becomes a question of ‘how do we make it work?’. For me, I expect to be paid and acknowledged for what I do, and so I try to make sure that as a creative, I’m not then asking another creative, or someone else in their field, to work for less than what I would be prepared to work for. So, outsourcing can be tricky to navigate at times.
What is something you wish you could do/find locally that would support you as a creative entrepreneur?
I would really love for there to be an opportunity for creative entrepreneurs to get together. I’d love to know who else is out there in Māngere and, for us to be able to connect. Maybe that’s where we’ll find skills, in each other, to support us and our businesses, and the work that we do.
I think more money is always good! That’s really just about better opportunities. I was in Tauranga recently and I saw some lightboxes out on the street, portable lightboxes with photographs in them. I think they also have some permanent ones in Wellington. In terms of something tangible, I’d love to have spaces like that which are not necessarily inside a gallery. Spaces where we could be sharing our community, with our community.
It would be really awesome to have more opportunity and, it would be awesome for local businesses, Auckland Council and other organisations to be supporting local entrepreneurs actively and consciously. Not just engaging someone who has a great name but doesn’t come from here, particularly for projects that revolve around our people and our stories.
What do you wish you could change in societal attitudes that would enable you and other creative entrepreneurs to thrive?
Take us seriously! That’s my biggest issue. It is ridiculous how people don’t value creative industries as a real thing; like the expectation that we can legitimately work for ‘exposure’ as payment! Not taking our work in the creative industries as a serious occupation, or a serious thing. That is my biggest issue.
There’s also still this notion that Māori work for Māori, and Pacific work for Pacific. So, because I’m a Māori/Pasifika creative entrepreneur, then I must only have Māori/Pasifika clientele or, I’m only good enough to write about Māori and Pacific people. Yes I am a Māori and Pasifika entrepreneur, but that doesn’t limit what I can do, or who I can do it for.
It’s also interesting how people perceive photographers these days. Everyone owns a camera, but not everyone is a photographer. If you lift up your phone, you can take a photo, yes, but not everyone can have that photo tell a story or reflect you and your values. Photographers are always told ‘you have a nice camera, bet it can take great photos’, it’s like telling a builder ‘you have a nice hammer, bet it can build great houses’. Hmmmmm.
What do you love about living and working in the Māngere-Ōtāhuhu area?
This is my hood! I was born and raised here, this is my life. I love that this is home. I’m particularly lucky that I get to live so close to my papakāinga, to my marae, to my maunga, my awa, my moana, the whenua my tūpuna walked on. I get a lot of creative energy from that and, being so connected in that way.
This is so corny, but I love the diversity of Māngere! I actually do. I love being able to go to Māngere Town Centre and hear Indian languages, Māori, Tongan, Cook Islands, Niuean, Samoan, Asian languages, just walking from one end of the Town Centre to the other. There’s all these different people, in all these different ways… You’ve got your young, urban, Pasifika/Māori, then you’ve got your older Mamas, you’ve got people singing. I just love the true diversity; not just culturally but in age, gender, what we’re all into, how we all are.
I love that we still have our green spaces in Māngere, places that we can connect to.
Māngere is becoming more and more gentrified, especially Māngere Bridge, which is where I grew up. But this is my home, this is my hood! This is where I’m from. I feel like I’ve got a little bit more legitimacy when I do stuff because, man, I’m from here!
Would your work or practice be different if you lived somewhere else?
It’s a little bit difficult to say, because I’m a people person and i’m able to connect with people elsewhere. I might have to work harder on it and, I might not be able to get as intimate. When I’m doing work which is particularly about this community, there’s that ingrained knowledge that I have, whereas if I was to be somewhere else, creating art for or about their community, I don’t know that I would be able to do it justice. In saying that though, I still write about and photograph people outside of these areas everyday, so it’s a little bit hard to say. If it was particularly to do with living and working and making work about this community, yes, it would be different.
What inspires you to keep going when the going gets tough?
I think I’m just naturally a person who likes to achieve, because once I’ve got there, I get to cross it off the list and move on to the next thing. I’m always looking for the next thing to achieve and, I actually find it really hard when I don’t achieve it.
What inspires me is living a life that I love… and being happy. I’m still quite young, but I’ve had jobs in my life that have made me really, really unhappy and, I learned very hard and fast that I would rather have less money and be happy than have a lot of money and just be in a shit mood every day! So, that keeps me going.
I suppose now the fact that I have a child, is going to keep me going. It’s really hard because you have these moments when you think, ‘do I go back into full-time work so I can get a regular pay check’ or do I keep grinding and making it work, because I know that in the long run it’s better for me, it’s better for my family, it’s better for my creativity, it’s better for my sanity… but you still have to hustle for that dollar. So, I’m often having those conflicting conversations around which direction do I keep going in.
I’m one of those people who puts a lot of pressure on myself, because I like to do well. And I do like to achieve. And I have lots of ideas! I could never do one job for the rest of my life, I’ll go nuts! I can’t even do one job for one week! I have to do so many different things within the week… I think that’s just a creative person’s way of working.
I have lots of ideas that I want to see happen because I just think they’re awesome, and if I think they’re awesome, I’m sure other people will think they’re awesome too. That kind of stuff keeps me going.
What’s coming up for you this year?
I’m relaunching Qiane Media & Photography; I am quite focused on what stories I want to tell, and how I want to tell them. And I’m clear now on what I don’t want to do, which is really great. I also have a couple of projects coming up, one of them is Nuku.
Nuku is a multimedia series for and about kick ass indigenous women. Featuring 100 wahine (spread over 4 series) who are change-makers, entrepreneurs, creatives and professionals. Old, young, urban and rural.
The series will profile each woman using a range of modern media, from podcasts, photography and video, with a collector’s edition magazine journal available after every 25 profiles. There will also be live talks and, at the end, an exhibition.
NUKU will be authentic in its approach and delivery, unscripted in style and, innovative in its production. It’s going to be led by Wāhine, made by Wāhine, for Wāhine. So, I’m really excited about this!
I also want to write a couple of bilingual kids books that have an indigenous kaupapa behind them.
If anyone wants to throw money at me for these projects, that would be fabulous!
It’s awesome because, I guess the last couple of months, being hapū, I have been able to think a lot, and put all the plans into place. I’ve been able to really ask myself, ‘what do I really want to do?’. My mother has been a teacher for longer than 35 years, she knew that’s what she wanted to do; she’s been running the same Early Childhood centre for 23 years. I’ve come to a point in my life where I want to be doing stuff that I really want to do and, I have a unique set of skills that allows me to be able to do those things. So, let’s make it work in 2018!