Common Moments

Instagram Portraits by Vinesh Kumaran


VINESH KUMARAN Sione Manu, 78yo from Tonga came to New Zealand in August 1973. Sione has since lived in Onehunga. ‘I’ve dropped my lawn mower for a service and pick it up next week, but I’m walking home.’
Digital photograph

In the age of Insta-challenges, selfies and the social currency of the click-like-share economy, visual culture can momentarily engage a seemingly infinite audience in a singular moment between photographer, lens and subject ― viewer, screen and device.

In 2014, South Auckland-based photographer Vinesh Kumaran set himself the challenge of using his iPhone to shoot and share a portrait a day via photo-sharing app, Instagram. Initially conceived as a means to keep creatively active between commercial jobs, the project became a daily ritual, a visual discipline and public obsession that engaged new and diverse audiences with each addition.

The impressive series was made over 365 days; it traces Kumaran’s footprints across Auckland, to the Far North and Samoa, around Aotearoa and deep into the nooks and crannies of his home suburb of Mangere. Through the square lens of Instagram, we encounter people and spaces, roller doors and weatherboards, living rooms, bikes, balls, mangroves . . . mats, scooters, bus stops . . . radiant juxtapositions and intriguing suburban camouflage.

In captions that accompany the portraits, each subject is credited; their name and age, where they live and sometimes where they are originally from. In short quotes that follow, the subject’s voice elevates the image and demystifies the gaze. Kumaran has approached strangers in the street, human to human, eye to eye; the quotes are sometimes secrets and sometimes mundane, but represent the space between the artist, the camera and the subject, and exist as the residue of the encounter.

Kumaran developed a keen interest in portraiture from documenting a highly personal journey retracing his family’s historical migration from India to Fiji and on to Aotearoa. The experience helped form an acute awareness of the power of the lens and the position of the photographer. His ability to manoeuvre through cultural difference, to find a common moment of connection has come to be a defining feature of his work, and the power of this common ground is most evident in projects that reflect and respond to his own lived experience.

Open All Hours (2013), a series of portraits of dairy shop owners behind their counters, draws on Kumaran’s own experience of working in his family dairy. An experimental body of work documenting sugarcane farmers at the start of their days was made in Ba, the small town in rural Viti Levu, Fiji, where he grew up.

In his 2014–15 Instagram portrait project, Kumaran did not set out to create a ‘Humans of South Auckland’ type archive; the people of South Auckland so heavily represented in the series are a reflection of the artist’s life. He lives in Mangere, visits friends and relatives, shops and strolls in Papatoetoe, Manukau, Manurewa, Otahuhu. The people he has encountered paint a rich picture of the region’s enormous diversity, connected by the common ground of being here, now. It is perhaps a timely depiction of a community in transition, where creeping gentrification and the inevitable displacement and resulting cultural shift are redefining South Auckland every day.

VINESH KUMARAN Katai Liu, 19yld, born in Tonga. Has lived in Otara for the last 10 years. Katai attended Hillary College and is working as a mechanic at Long Drive Auto Repairs for 2 years now. ‘I love mechanics. I’m just following dad’s footsteps, he is a mechanic back home in Tonga. For me it’s about loving God first then family.
Digital photograph

VINESH KUMARAN Lesieli Filipa, 68yo originally from Tonga came to New Zealand in 1984. Lesieli has 6 grandchildren and one great grandchild. She calls Mangere her home. ‘I remember arriving on a Saturday and on the following Monday I was working.’
Digital photograph

VINESH KUMARAN Bora Um & Sovy Loem 31, 30 yld. From Cambodia Pusat province. Here in New Zealand for two years now. Both monks have been devoting their practice at Manurewa Buddhist Temple. ‘Once I am eligible, I will apply for my visa.’
Digital photograph

VINESH KUMARAN Sa Lui 37yo, from Pakuranga. Attending today’s wedding Sa’s partner is brother of the groom. ‘My partner went to Nigeria last year and got me lots of outfits.’
Digital photograph