Getting to Know Sara McIntyre

September 3rd 2020

This week we were lucky enough to chat with Sara McIntyre, the photographer behind Observations of a Rural Nurse, which quickly sold out of its first print run and is currently being reprinted. She talked about what drives her photography process, what impact her career as a nurse has had on her art, and what it was like to publish her first book!

What is your day job? 

Photographer.

What is your connection to Vic Books? 

I lived most of my life in Wellington and attended Victoria University many years ago, so I’ve been a frequenter of Vic Books for a long time. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

Currently resting up thinking about the next body of work, which will probably just evolve as I go. To have too firm an idea is limiting. 

Tell us a little bit about your recent release Observations of a Rural Nurse. How have you found the process of publishing and releasing your photographic body of work? 

When Massey University Press agreed to take my book on it was very exciting. Also a bit nerve wracking, as I felt like a naive novice but I had a lot of very good support. The actual putting together of the body of work was very satisfying. I worked with the designer, Sarah Gladwell, and with Anna Miles from the Anna Miles Gallery. That was fun, they both were very appreciative and enthusiastic of my work and what the book was about.

The release of the book was a thrill. The reaction, especially in my own community, was very touching. Emotional at times. I had not anticipated that it would mean so much to others. It gave people pride. The Taumarunui book seller said, you’ve made us matter. That has made it for me. 

What is it that draws you to photography as a way to capture people and places? 

I started off simply wanting to record, to tell, to document life as it was for me. It’s what I observe. I’m from a family of artists, mainly painters. There was always an intense interest in our landscape and people. I chose a camera. It wasn’t a conscious decision. The camera eventually became a kind of license to look further into what interested me. I was interested in people, their homes, their lives. The nurse in me, I suppose. There’s also the love of the landscape. I want to capture it and share. I could write about what I see but a photograph says it all, but doesnt say too much. It draws people in and then they can take it from there. 

I recently drove up to Kirikiriroa from Wellington and noticed Mrs. Ruruku's house from the road, recognising it from your photograph. There's something about it that really pulls your attention and makes you wonder about its history and who lives there.

How do you choose your subjects? Is there a feeling, or is it purely aesthetics? 

I agree with you. I have driven past Mrs. Ruruku’s house for over 50 years and it has always intrigued me. I’ve snooped around it when it was empty and I’ve asked about it. There’s a lot of history there. The more I know, the more the house draws me in. I often find myself photographing similar houses and places, always wondering what the history might be. They have character, history, a life, unlike so many houses. It’s the story, and the aesthetics. 

What kind of an impact has your nursing career had on your photography? 

I used to work in an intensive care unit. It was a specialised area in its unique world. I also did a lot of flight nursing with Life Flight transporting sick babies. I began photographing as a record of the story of our work and environment, of staff, parents and babies. District nursing could not have been more different but I had an opportunity to see so much more of the region and the community. It was a privilege to go into homes and get to know the subjects. I had the privilege of going into homes and getting to know people in their own environment.

As a nurse you’re always assessing. As a photographer you’re always assessing. People were intrigued that I was interested in photographing them or what was important to them. I was able to put nursing and photography together. 

Of all your photographs, are there any that are particularly close to you? 

The photographs for my book probably, because I know them so well! Particularly the ones of people. For each photograph there is a vivid memory, a story. They mean a lot to me. 

Who has inspired you in your life? What books have influenced you? 

My Dad. His work, his books, and the way we lived. Growing up I took it all for granted but now I can see he has been a huge influence. His Kakahi book I have scrutinised recently. Robin Morrison’s books were an early influence. I was interested in the way he viewed New Zealand. Then Laurence Aberharts books. Athol McCredie’s New Zealand Photography Collected is an extraordinary collection of all aspects of NZ photography. It’s a portrait of New Zealand. 

Some quick fire book recs please!

Images and Shadows by Iris Origo Joan.

Joan: Beauty, Rebel, Muse: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor by Simon Fenwick.

The Green Road by Anne Enright.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

On Photography by Susan Sontag. 

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, Joyce by Colm Toibin 

Can You Tolerate This by Ashleigh Young 

What are you reading at the moment? 

I’ve ordered and am waiting for Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards The End. In the meantime I’m reading The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer. 

What do you like about it? 

It's a quirky book about a selection of photographers and how we see their work . Dyer says at the beginning he’s not a photographer, he doesn't own a camera, so it's a unique and often entertaining look at photography. 

Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

No one really these days. When I was young it was Eloise from the series of books by Kay Thompson. 

I think it appealed to me that she was a wild child having a fine old time on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York with her turtle and dog. No parents seemed to be around, only a despairing Nanny. 

Hardback or paperback? 

Both. Sometimes when ordering a book I’ll splurge out and get the hardback. 

Favourite coffee? 

Supreme flat white.