Photographer Marissa Findlay has been an integral part of New Zealand's fashion industry for over 20 years. She has worked with top local magazines Black, Fashion Quarterly, Remix and the now-defunct Pavement and photographed campaigns for many of the country's leading designers, notably helping to shape the aesthetic of Zambesi over the last 22 years.
Marissa also works as a show producer and has been on the New Zealand Fashion Week team since its 2001 inception, producing shows for Zambesi, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Pamela Anderson's A*Muse and many others.
Her images have a sense of movement and honest beauty, capturing the vulnerability and strength of her subjects. Perhaps it’s these qualities that have seen her work with celebrities Kevin Smith, Renee O’Connor, Temuera Morrison, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Adam Lambert and Rachel Hunter and top models Abbey Lee, Miranda Kerr, Lara Stone, Emily Baker and Georgia Fowler.
"I definitely see a common thread in all of [my images] and I think that's looking right into the soul of the subject," Marissa explains. "It's not the subject just posing for me, it's me capturing them, whether they're a fashion model or a portrait. I think I always capture the vulnerability or the strength of the subject, not the subject pretending to be something else."
It seems inevitable that fashion should run in Marissa’s blood, being the daughter of designers Elisabeth and Neville Findlay, founders of iconic design house Zambesi. Marissa's first jobs were in her parent's shops and she began photographing for the brand when she was just a teenager. Her work for Zambesi and NOM*d (designer Margarita Robertson is her aunt) has helped to define the brand aesthetics of both and her directional images complement their distinctive looks.
After completing high school at Epsom Girls Grammar, Marissa undertook a two-year photography diploma at Unitec. She was prompted to focus on fashion after a university assignment aroused her mother’s interest. Subsequently, she was enlisted to photograph Zambesi’s advertising campaigns and has continued to do so ever since. She also helps with the brand's marketing, social media and show production - it truly is a family business.
"I feel like they were some of the first images that were quite different to everybody else's," she says of her early work with Zambesi and NOM*d. "And I tried to break that through into the commercial editorial that was happening in New Zealand. People like Glenn Hunt at Pavement magazine really nurtured that."
Before long, Marissa's resume read like a directory of Australasia’s top magazines and designers – with shoots for international style bibles Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Oyster and Russh and local publications Cleo, Pavement, Remix, Fashion Quarterly and Black. There were also advertising campaigns for the likes of Zimmerman, Trelise Cooper Kids, DeCjuba, State of Grace, Elka Knitwear and more.
While shooting backstage at Fashion Week in Australia in 2000, Marissa realised another passion lay in show production. Offering her services free to New Zealand Fashion Week, she secured a job as casting director. This led to producing group and individual designer shows at both Australia and New Zealand Fashion Weeks and working with charities KidsCan, Breast Cancer Cure and the Auckland City Mission.
Over her career, which has encompassed fashion, beauty, weddings and portraiture, Marissa has seen the photography world move from film to digital. She has recently taken the next step into moving image, with her role as DOP (director of photography) and production work on two music videos ('Brown Girl' and 'Welcome to the Jungle') for New Zealand singer Aaradhna.
"It's something I've always wanted to do, even before digital photography came along. I always thought I'd be a cinematographer so this is a good start! Even my photography is quite cinematic these days so it makes sense."
Marissa says the highlight of her career so far has been all the wonderful friendships she has made. However, there are challenges to working in New Zealand, she says, one of which is the lack of value placed on a photographer's skills. There's also a growing number of amatuer photographers, with the onset of smartphone photography, who have never worked with film because of the ease of access to the digital medium.
"When I was studying and becoming a professional in my field, I had to really have a point of difference with handling film. You had to be really precise with what you were doing. You only had 24 shots on a roll, or 12 on a roll depending on what format you were shooting. You had to really think about it, it was expensive to process. You had to put a lot of time into making an image."
The mother to an eight-year-old son - who has proven to be an engaging subject in photographs and on the runway - is based in Auckland. Her personal passions include travel photography, sports, and continuing to push her art.
"I feel like I want my work these days to be a bit more confrontational. As you get older, everything becomes more holistic."
Text by Fiona Ralph. Banner image © Marissa Findlay.
Last published November 2016.