Tony’s a grand master of photography

Tony Stewart takes an interpretive look at a storm at dusk on Castle Hill.

Photography captured his heart more than 25 years ago, and now Tony Stewart has achieved the penultimate – Grand Master with the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. The former teacher talks to Susan Sandys.

Tony Stewart, photography grand master

“It’s mind-blowing,” says Ashburton born and bred photographer Tony Stewart.

He has just returned from the prestigious 2018 Iris Awards, organised by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP).

The awards were judged in a public forum over a three-day period by panels of national and international judges and announced at a gala black-tie dinner in Wellington on Monday night.

The best images receive gold, silver and bronze at the annual awards and a select few photographers, this year just four, receive the penultimate honour of Grand Master.

Stewart was among them, making him the first to ever achieve the honour in the NZIPP Canterbury and Westland region.

It is something which takes years to do, as entrants need to build up a suite of the gold, silver and bronze accolades.

For Stewart, the 48-year-old dad of two who established his Photoshots business in Christchurch 19 years ago, it was a goal which began to come into focus about five years ago.

“When you first start off you think it’s [Grand Master award] so far away, you kind of have this idea when you start, that’s for someone else.”

His final elusive gold had been something he was aiming for over the past two to three years.

The image which earned him this year’s gold also won the landscape category. It was a triptych of images he took from a boat at Breaksea Sound in Fiordland.

“It is a very special place that many Kiwis don’t get to visit,” Stewart said.

That meant it deserved special treatment and he transformed his images of the natural landscape, cropping them, converting them to black and white variants, turning them 90 degrees and arranging them as a narrative of three.

Stewart first fell in love with photography at the age of 21 while studying at university. It was a hobby which he continued with as he taught in secondary schools and then travelled.

Upon returning from overseas he decided to take a leap of faith and go into photography fulltime, and do a one-year course.

“It was just the allure of something creative. Every day I wake up and don’t know what I am going to be doing that day,” he said.

“It’s not particularly easy, it sounds glamorous but there’s a lot of computer work.”

Daily variety, along with the attraction of getting the next great image, has continued to keep him inspired.

He may be capturing a three-year-old for a child portrait one day and the prime minister at a high-flying function the next.

When he established his photography business he began with mainly weddings, whereas today he mostly does commercial work. Bookings each year include some at his old school of Ashburton College, where he shoots school photos and the annual school ball.