Cook Island Māori photographer documents indigenous stories to the world

By Jessica Tyson

Cook Island, Māori photographer Alex King is proving what it means to be an indigenous photographer documenting indigenous stories.

“Being an indigenous photographer to me is basically someone that can tell stories and capture images without really having to tell the story in words, through the eyes of indigenous people," she says.

King has just arrived home from a visit to Indonesia where she photo-documented the impact of the palm oil industry on the wildlife and indigenous people.

“In Indonesia, they burn down all the native forests and they plant all these palm trees, grow them and then cut them down to harvest all the oil. So the orangutans, rhinos, elephants, lions, birds, they're all endangered now because of that.”

She also got to meet people from the indigenous Batak tribe.

“It was really interesting to be able to document the result or the impact that it’s had on people in the city, so there’s a lot of old colonial buildings and a lot of poverty and overpopulation,” she says.

“We actually trekked into the forest to basically see the little people, the people that are restoring, re-growing native forests and doing all the hard work, the real work and also see the orangutan, the endangered Sumatran orangutans in the forest.

“I've always been really passionate about nature and anything to do with nature so that includes wildlife. To me, everything is a cycle and everything is connected especially as indigenous people.”

Exhibition in Canada

King has also been chosen to exhibit her work at the world’s largest photography festival in May, where she will show her work alongside other artists who have captured indigenous stories all over the world.

She will present her work on local Cook Island artist Michael Tavioni.

“I chose to do that particular project, exhibit that project, because he is a traditional artist and what he represents is our culture, our people, our tradition and basically someone who wants to preserve that and I think it’s important that not only our people see that, the whole world sees that,” she says.

King says the exhibition it is an attempt to ask that, “we as Cook Islanders never lose what is truly ours, the importance of our culture, and our elders who are the most valuable people in our communities because they hold a piece of our history.”

“For an indigenous photographer, it is important that we are the ones telling our stories and that it’s coming from a truthful and honest place.”

The Contact Photo Photography Festival will open on 30 April and run until the end of May.