Niki Boon’s photography feels like a feral cat ready to pounce. Holed up with her family on a ten-acre farm with a pond in rural New Zealand, she’s free to root around in the muck and mud with her kids and compose masterpieces. With her shutter finger poised to strike and her heightened senses on notice, it’s that very remoteness which allows for an unguarded flow of moments in a world wholly of the family’s making.
Dirt and sweat and nature’s output are not obstacles but instead points of departure. Without the societal restraints of school, her children embrace the fabric of their unique existence while Mom becomes non-Mom and fades into the background, a woman with a camera in front of her face and a willingness to just let stuff happen.
As legendary photographer George Lange says, “Niki takes pictures that are both perfectly clear and a total mystery. That are surreal and completely honest. That knock on Eugene Meatyard’s and Eugene Richards’ door to say hello but have a mind of their own and are all about playing with the minor chords.” Though Boon’s pictures are almost exclusively of her children, they are anything but cute or sentimental records of growing up as one might expect. A strong sense of time suspended pervades her work, as if we have been granted access to a closely guarded secret.
And maybe this is how photography can move beyond its four borders and tap a well in our subconscious. Listening to Niki on podcasts and reading her interviews belies the fact that this woman — a child of nature and wanderlust herself — casually and comfortably serves as a vessel for our submerged memories of being children, a distant place brought to the present through the simple mechanics of a camera. Equal parts wonder and discovery fill the windows into Boon’s kids’ day-to-day; her kids are beautifully ALL kids, naked as the day they were born and creating worlds with just the simplicity of a water-hose or the fantasy provocation of a pair of cowgirl boots.
Indeed — in picture after picture — the legs and arms of her children become portals into an alternate universe, a place unstuck in time where cold and wind and rain only add to the sense of floating in a dream state. One can easily imagine Niki slipping away from the responsibilities of motherhood as she follows her offspring, the sound of the screen door slamming behind her as the rush of adrenaline and their actions roll out before her. When asked about using black and white exclusively, Boon says, “I choose to use black-and-white processing as I think it depicts their story best. I truly believe there is certainly a magic in black-and-white imagery that I find impossible to explain. I love the magic in the shadow and the highlight, and in the mystique.”
Nikki’s images reside in the same realm and exhibit a similar spirit to those of Sally Mann (another chronicler of fleeting childhoods spent in and with nature) but depart from that comparison most vividly in that Boon’s pictures are far from studied or elegantly mannered as might be said about Sally Mann’s. Selective focus and her children’s ability to accurately reflect what most children only dream about are subtle but central contributors to the power and honesty of Boon’s work. Frame after frame places us square in the middle of her family’s unique dynamics and almost makes us participants in lives lived in an alternative universe.
Growing up on a large farm, Boon hasn’t left that upbringing too far behind — she has simply transferred the aura of that to her four children as they channel her vision of childhood in Eden. Perhaps there is no better tool than a camera in the hands of a sensitive practitioner intertwined with a willingness to let life flow in and be recorded to give childhood its due.
As Australian photographer Zoe Gemelli shares, “Niki Boon is Jack Kerouac with a camera. Her art is palpable, gritty, evocative, vulnerable. It’s scraped knees, trampled blossoms, suffering characters, humanity’s sweeping breadth. Using adventurous, film-like aesthetics with deep succumbing blacks, air-gasping contrasts. It’s a love affair with bruises, the intimacy of bellicose moments, smitten with troublemaking tenderness. Low-fi kinetic poetry, a dapper, enthusiastic mix of panache and grit, disgust and awe.”
Niki Boon‘s work is available on her website.