A New Zealand photographer with a big international reputation, Derek Henderson has a broad ranging practice working across the genres of fashion, architecture, portraiture and landscape. These genres, however, are not discreet within his work but rather they seem to meld one with the other.
Derek has always maintained that his fashion practice closely relates to his portraiture - explaining that it is all about trying to understand the human condition. "I think it’s all the same, really … It’s all about portraiture - it’s taking a photo of another person."
Born in 1963, Derek’s initial pull to photography came from a job assisting a wedding photographer on weekends. He soon began filling in and found he enjoyed it, and that he was gaining experience learning to direct people in photos. Derek later found work as an assistant for an advertising photographer. His introduction to fashion photography came in 1985 when he met the editor of ChaCha magazine, Ngila Dickson. His first jobs were a couple of editorial shoots in a studio, including one which featured early Doris de Pont designs modelled by Charlotte Dawson. Later shoots were often out of the studio with the landscape and architecture contributing to a sense of place and narrative.
Around this time, Derek also started work shooting stills on films in Europe, gaining experience which no doubt informed his later work on short films. From there he moved to London and worked as a fashion photographer - it was a time of education for him as he soaked up the scene of the dynamic city. In these early years, Derek was inspired by photographers such as Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz.
Derek spent several years working abroad establishing his career, but always maintaining his connection to the fashion scene in New Zealand. He has worked with many of New Zealand’s top designers over the years, notably with Karen Walker. This included photographing Karen's 'Superheroes' series in the mid-1990s and photographing her in 1999 for a spread in Vogue Australia. More recently he has worked on a number of her jewellery and eyewear campaigns, utilising elements from his fine art photography. Recently he photographed her 2014 ethical fashion 'Visible' eyewear campaign, which featured the African craftspeople who had contributed to the creation of the eyewear pouches as the models.
The landscape is a key feature in much of Derek’s work and is strongly evident in his fashion photography. As noted by one writer: "In Henderson’s fashion photographs clothing may be central to the shot, but it equally appears as if it just happens to be what the model put on that day before she was photographed going for a walk or leaning on a fence - such is the sense of calm and ease in his casual style." Interestingly though, while Derek has captured the landscapes of New Zealand, the South Pacific and Friesland in the Netherlands he has never featured the landscape of Australia. He lived there for many years, but he always felt their landscape was a "different language" so never included it in his practice.
Derek does not differentiate between his commercial and fine artwork, to him they are all pursuing his passion of photography. His fashion photography work includes advertising campaigns for various New Zealand and Australian labels like Rodd & Gunn, Hallensteins, David Jones, Helen Cherry and Streetlife.
Derek joined the production company Curious Film in 2007, and his experience as a director has led to commercial film work including a short film, Create, for Glassons in 2011.
Derek has lived and worked in international centres throughout the world, including London, Los Angeles and New York but currently bases himself between Auckland and Sydney after returning to this part of the world in 2007.He is constantly working on various personal and commissioned projects around the globe with his most recent body of fine art photography The Adjustment on display at Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland from 24 May to 17 June 2017.
Public collections holding Derek’s work include Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, Pah Homestead, Auckland and Waitoa Meat Plant.
Text by Cerys Dallaway Davidson. Banner image by Kerry Brown for ChaCha magazine, December 1986/January 1987. Image © Kerry Brown and ChaCha magazine.
Last published June 2017.