Rob Tennent is a New-Zealand based photographer that we connected with earlier this year, and we immediately hit it off. We love his approach to photography, and couldn’t wait to collaborate with him on a Dreamteam. His evolution through modelling, finishing his fashion degree at Auckland University of Technology, and ending up behind the lens shows how he has settled into his own. The narrative of his work is inclusive, from the people who he chooses to shoot and the vulnerability and authenticity in which he shoots them. However, his work still feels ethereal and editorial; it shows the beauty and glamour of the people and places that reflect our reality.. All his work has accumulated into the finalisation of his new book, I’m going to miss you, which is a playful and nostalgic nod to a summer passed with beautiful men. He is so kind and thoughtful, and it has been such a pleasure to connect with him and get to know him. We had the opportunity to talk to him about his life growing up, the process of creating I’m going to miss you, and the scents and sights which inspire him most.
You grew up in Cambodia and now live in New Zealand, can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and when you moved?
I have moved around for a lot of my childhood. My papa worked in forestry which was the reason we moved so much. My parents met in Cambodia and fell in love. I was born five years into their relationship, we lived in Phnom Penh until I was eight. We moved to St Lucia which is where my love of the ocean began. On Friday’s, my parents would sit on the beach and watch me surf, then I would go scuba diving together every Saturday, snorkelling with my mum and papa every Sunday. We moved around a little bit before settling in New Zealand when I was twelve.
What are the smells and tastes that remind you of home?
Great question! I can’t describe it but, the smell of my mum. I think it’s her clothes or just her general perfume scent, but I instantly feel safe when I smell it.
What’s something that you see a little differently than most people?
Growing up in Cambodia, I have seen real poverty. I had a very Buddhist nanny from birth until nine years old, and she taught me everything about being caring and grateful. Being surrounded by people that had nothing really made me grateful for everything I get now. I can be quite a sensitive person, which not many people would think.
Have you always been drawn to photography as a creative medium? What first
inspired you to pick up a camera?
I remember when I was five years old, my dad gave me his digital camera and I would run around the house taking photos of flowers, shoes, fences and washing lines. I have always loved it and to this day, it excites me every time I get the opportunity to shoot.
Can you tell us about the creative process of developing these beautiful images in New Zealand for us?
We have beautiful old buildings around the suburb of Mt Eden, and while we were in a little lockdown in the beginning of the year, I would go for solo drives and it just caught my eye, which led me to shoot at different old colourful buildings, and SUKU is such a calm and colourful brand, so it worked well.
What inspires you the most about the landscape in New Zealand?
We are such a new country compared to other parts of the world, and we have been isolated and tucked away in our little corner of the world, which allowed nature to thrive without predators for a long time. We also have a lot of volcanic activity so the landscape is constantly changing, in rough and brutal ways, which lead us to have such breathtaking locations.
You recently created a photography book, what was the process like?
It was refreshing. It was exciting to be able to shoot and only have to please myself. I didn't have to shoot products or clothes, I didn't have to report to anyone. It really reminded me why I do what I do and how lucky I am that I can do what I love for a living. I think it is something I will do for the rest of my life, work in fashion as well as do personal projects every few years, when I am inspired by something or someone.
In your own words, what inspired you to create this visual book and what do you hope that people feel when they see it?
I hope people see New Zealand in a new light. We are a beautiful country with special summers, I will always come back for my kiwi summers. As New Zealanders, pre COVID-19, people would travel to Europe for their holiday destinations and as beautiful as Europe is, the pandemic reminded us how beautiful our country really is. I have never explored this much of the country before, and I am grateful for the way we handled the pandemic, because it allowed me to travel and shoot. I want people to feel the soft and gentle side of being a young man in summer. The work touches on nostalgia as well as brotherhood and male relationships in a nontoxic way.
Your new book, ‘I’m going to miss you’, documents the nostalgia of summer and
the male form. How did you choose someone to be a subject in your work?
I think it comes down to willingness and confidence. Men that are happy to create imagery the way I imagined it. I wanted to capture an international look, and real people that have little to no modelling experience. New Zealand is extremely diverse, but our work doesn’t show that in the male department. I wanted to capture enthusiastic and carefree people. The book is really fun and humorous. The subject for this SUKU shoot, Richard, is actually also in my book, towards the last few pages.
You’ve appeared both in front of the camera and behind it, what do you think the experience of modelling has taught you about your own photography practice?
I think it was the most helpful experience when it came to being a photographer. I now know what looks good and how to direct the model so we can achieve that. I am really specific and when shooting on film, you can’t waste shots on images that you aren’t confident with. And being a photographer helps me when I model, because I know what the photographer might want. Both can be fun, but photography is a lot easier for me.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?
I would love to wake up on a cliffside in Portugal. I have never been but have always heard beautiful things, so that is my next go to location when the world will allow it.
Concept and Photography: Rob Tennent @rob.tennent
Talent: Richard @richard_hyq