Māori Language Week 2021: Photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch on his commitment to te reo

Te Rawhitiroa Bosch (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāpuhi) thinks his life would be “pretty vanilla” if te reo Māori was not a part of it. The professional photographer grew up with te reo Māori as his first language and credits it for opening doors that he says would not have otherwise been opened to him.

“Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Māori motuhake. Te reo forms the basis of the expression of my identity and opens so many doors and windows into our ao Māori,” says Bosch.

Originally from Whangaroa in Northland, Bosch grew up in Whaingaroa/Raglan and these days lives in Kirikiriroa. The 35-year-old attended kōhanga reo and was a foundation student of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tōku Māpihi Maurea, in Hamilton. His grandmother, mother, and aunties were all teachers of Te Ātaarangi, a kaupapa that has been at the forefront of the revitalisation of te reo Māori for more 35 years.

“I was a child of all of those movements and I’m really grateful to my parents for that upbringing. With another language comes another worldview. Growing up with te reo Māori and English, I can view the world from te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā,” Bosch says.

Growing up, Bosch says some people questioned his commitment to te reo Māori and he recalls being told that there was no value in learning the language.

“As you’re growing up, people are like: ‘Why do you want to learn Māori for? It’s not going to get you anywhere’. A lot of us have heard that rhetoric and it’s straight b******t. It’s a real colonised way of thinking,” says Bosch.

“I know and so many of my mates know that without te reo Māori, we wouldn’t have the careers, connections and opportunities we do now.”

Despite the criticisms, Bosch stayed true to his upbringing and continued to be an advocate for te reo Māori. After finishing school, Bosch began working for the Toimata Foundation managing Te Aho Tū Roa – Kōtuia!, a nationwide reo Māori youth development programme that supports rangatahi Māori around Aotearoa to connect, using performing arts as the vehicle.

The journey of a career in photography began many moons ago for Bosch, who says it all started with him picking up his father’s point-and-shoot digital camera.

In his spare time, Bosch began photographing events for those who requested his services. After shooting professionally for more than 10 years, Bosch finally decided to take the leap three years ago and pursued a fulltime career in photography.

Bosch credits his understanding of te reo Māori and tikanga as being one of the main reasons he has found success in such a highly competitive market.

“With basically all of my mahi, you have to be able to speak te reo Māori. There are plenty of great photographers out there but there aren’t many who understand te ao Māori, who can safely and appropriately move on a marae, or connect with a kaumatua or kuia and understand what’s going on.”

Whilst Bosch says that knowing how to speak te reo Māori is not a prerequisite for understanding the Māori worldview, he says having a grasp of te reo undoubtedly helps to strengthen a person’s understanding of te ao Māori.

“There’s heaps of our whānau who don’t have the reo that have a deep understanding of te ao Māori but you can guarantee that if they learned te reo Māori, it would be even deeper … It’s kind of like unlocking the secret levels on a video game,” says Bosch.

With negative rhetoric continuing to circulate around the value of te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori, Bosch says all New Zealanders, particularly those working for the Crown, must continue to challenge their own perspectives and support the many Māori who are leading the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

“The colonisers deliberately tried to squash te reo Māori, they deliberately beat it out of our tūpuna, so it is their responsibility to support its growth and elevation, to take away barriers, and also to check their own racial biases that continue to reinforce those ideologies that te reo will never get you anywhere,” Bosch says.

Te Rawhitiroa's top tips for taking better photos

Te Rawhitiroa shoots with a Canon 5D Mark IV and mainly uses 24mm-70mm and 70mm-200mm lenses. He also uses a DJI Mavic Pro whatutopa (drone) for aerial video and photography.

  1. Think about the story you are trying to tell with your photos, be intentional about what is in frame and what is out of frame.
  2. Connect with your subject. Be a human, make eye contact, communicate with them, smile, this often makes the difference between a good photo and a great one.
  3. Clean your lens! Especially on your phone. Phone cameras often pick up oil, sweat, and dust which can end up with photos having the "Vaseline effect".
  4. Use your feet. Walk closer or further away, rather than using the zooming in and out, especially when using your phone.
  5. Be selective. After you have taken all of your photos, cull them right down and only keep the best. Do not post 20 photos of the same selfie to Facebook.

Liam Ratana is a freelance writer based in Whangārei.

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