NZLS AYL committee member, Freya McKechnie of Morris Legal, interviews Rachel Mataira about her move from corporate tax consultant to full-time photographer.
Rachel’s photography spans the contrasting genres of landscapes and social commentary. Her work has been featured in National Geographic and she was named New Zealand Young Photographer of Year in 2019.
What is your background in terms of your study and your career? How did you get into photography?
I studied a double degree down at Victoria University of Wellington. A Bachelor of Commerce (BCOM), majoring in accounting, tax and commercial law with a Bachelor of Design and Innovation (BDI) majoring in software design.
Photography was always a hobby I loved to do in my spare time but never treated it as a “proper” career option. I went to night school at Whitecliffe to learn more about it when I was younger, but was never confident enough in my abilities as a “creative” to take it as a serious subject.
I ultimately worked in corporate international tax at Deloitte as a graduate and started my photography business as a fun side project to keep the creativity going whilst I was working and studying for my CA.
After two years of doing it on the side, I realised there is actually a lot of opportunity in the space. I started to back myself a little bit more to give it a go full time, with the hope that if it doesn’t work out I can put it down to good life experience.
How did you balance your photography and producing prints with a full-time corporate job? Do you have any tips for work/life balance?
At first, it was pretty easy! But as time went on, I realised my efforts towards it increased, which ultimately led to (a little bit) of growth. Once it started growing, balance became challenging. I was known by my Deloitte colleagues as spending every lunch break at the Mojo cafe across the road where I could get at least 45 mins of “side work” in. My evenings and weekends became a balance of CA and print packaging. I ultimately started hiring people on an ad-hoc basis and then someone part time for 4 months before I resigned from corporate life.
How did you make the change to working full-time as a photographer? Do you have any advice for someone wanting to pursue their passion or a side project as a full-time career?
It was a gradual transition for me. My only advice would be to back yourself to give your side project a go. There’s no financial pressure for something to work if you are in full time employment. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out in the way you hoped and there’s more valuable learning in “failure" than “success" anyway.
What aspects of your work or achievements are you most passionate about or proud of?
I’ve been lucky with awards and recognition, but I try not to attach too closely to those. I think I’m most proud of following what makes me happy.
I understand you had big plans for 2020 with your first solo exhibition overseas – how did you deal with the setbacks of COVID-19?
I think we all had visions of what 2020 would look like and all had to reassess that. COVID-19 meant that I couldn’t exhibit my landscape photography in Los Angeles in April 2020, but it did mean I could document the monumental time we were living through in New Zealand and do a documentary exhibition at the end of the year locally. The public support for this was overwhelming and I feel very grateful to have been able to go ahead with the one in December.
Rachel’s landscape prints are available for purchase through her website, rachelmataira.com.