Mike Watson

Auckland Portrait Photographer

Mike Watson

My story is full on, but it’s a journey which has made me stronger and got me to where I am today.

It began with my move up north to live with my then girlfriend.  What I thought was going to be a mutual partnership turned out to be an expectation to become an instant dad overnight which at the age of 30 I wasn’t ready for.  I was suddenly paying $500 p/wk in rent, working all day to bring home the paycheck, cooking and cleaning, making dinner – doing the works without any reciprocation.  While I don’t mind contributing in a relationship, these expectations were too much for me, especially as I was recovering from stomach cancer at the time.  The relationship deteriorated, resulting in me being kicked out overnight, causing me to live in my truck for a week without food or money.

I took a job that paid me 50% less than normal.  It was disheartening, but I had to survive.  This job also meant working 40hrs a week, but only getting paid enough to cover rent and buy five pies a week to keep me fed.  This was during lockdown, so I ended up moving 4 times over this period in a state of alert.

The day before my birthday, after driving from Mangawhai to the Mount to collect some belongings, I crashed my Ute after doing a 9hr day on the building site and 4 hours of driving.  Along with the exhaustion, alcohol was a factor. I made a poor choice, but at the time, all I could think of was driving home or paying for a taxi and going hungry for a week.  I chose to ensure I was still fed so I had the energy to work and get back on my feet. It was the wrong choice.  When I crashed my truck, I died and had an out of body experience.  I flew around my truck looking at my body as it hung over the steering wheel for 3 minutes.  That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

As a result of the crash, I lost my license, my transport, my tools and my job (around $70K worth) and went hungry for another two weeks.  To add to the stress, I had $1000 worth of bills to find a way to cover, with no way of working to help ease the burden.

I knew my life couldn’t continue on this trajectory.  I needed to make some positive changes.  I made a choice.  I decided in addition to focusing on my building business, I also needed to focus on my health, both mentally and physically.  I had gone through a lot, including working 18-hour days for the last year without any help of support from anyone, knowing I was very lucky to be alive.

I also needed a more permanent place to live. I don’t know if it was the negativity energy that was hanging around me at that time but I couldn’t seem to find a place to be settled.  I kept moving into places that didn’t last and having to move out again.  The repetitive cycle of sleeping in my car, going hungry and living paycheck to paycheck continued.

While this was happening, my business was taking off.  I had 6 staff and 3 jobs on the go.  But running a business while living in your car which was parked outside your gym, is not sustainable.  I started expanding my business with the hope to sell cabins to pay for a place to live, food on the table and a new truck.  My hard work paid off and I successfully expanded my business, my health improved, and I found a new place to live (I move in next week).  I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I have lived a lifetime in the last few years.  But I have also come out stronger.  I have never stopped moving forward, and by refocusing my life, I have become someone that I am proud of today.


Portrait Photographer Auckland


Growing up with a father as a mariner, the sea has always been a big part of my life. Very early on I knew it would be an aspect of my career and I’ve now been working in the off shore industry for 10 years. This has a significant effect on my relationships with my family, friends and partner.

I have decorated my body with reminders of things that are important in my life, inclusive of shared tattoos with my siblings and friends, memoirs of pets and references to the journeys my job has taken me on. The swallows are significant in representing the distance I have traveled at sea and encouraging the safe return home, mirroring the swallows constant return to their home land.

The sacrifice of working away is not for everyone and the toll it can have on the body both mentally and physically is not for the faint hearted.

Beautiful Ivy


Shop now

Lying on Blue Rocks

Nude Photography Auckland


Nude Photography Auckland

Nude Photography Auckland Nude Photography Auckland

Nude Photography Auckland

Nude Photography Auckland Nude Photography Auckland


Award winning professional photographer Auckland

Silver Award for Juxtaposition  in the Portrait category of the 2020 Rise Photography Awards, Silver at NZIPP 2020 Iris Awards, Landscape in Camera category

Yawning Camel

Giza Pyramids, Cairo

Nominee at the 15th Annual Black & White Spider Awards


LOS ANGELES, November 11, 2020 – Professional photographer Ilan Wittenberg of New Zealand was presented with the 15th Annual Black and White Spider Awards Nominee title at a prestigious Nomination & Winners PhotoShow.

The live online gala was attended by industry leaders and the photography community from around the globe who logged on to watch the climax of the world’s premier event for black and white photography. 15th Annual Jury members included captains of the industry from Musee de l’Elysee, Lausanne; Sotheby’s, London; Travel/Discovery Channel, New York; Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland; Portuguese Center of Photography, Porto; Aeroplastics Contemporary, Brussels; The Guardian, London; Contrasto Galleria, Milan; ADK Creative One Inc., Tokyo; Hiroshima MOCA, Japan; MACBA, Barcelona; and Pereira O’Dell in New York who honored Spider Fellows with 610 coveted title awards and 919 nominees in 32 categories.

“Simply Stunning.” Justine Gruser, Specialist at Sotheby’s commented. Bernardino Castro, Director at Portuguese Center of Photography (CPF), Porto said “The amazing quality of the images in the competition made it very difficult to select the winners. I would like to reinforce the relevance and impact of Black & White Spider Awards as a mobilizing agent in promoting the production and dissemination of excellent photography at an international level.” Christopher Doyle, Creative Director at Travel Channel/Discovery, New York added, “Always look forward to the way in which these photographers see the world in a unique and curious way.”

“It’s an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 6,378 entries from 69 countries we received this year” said Basil O’Brien, the awards Creative Director. “Ilan’s Yawning Camel,” an exceptional image, represents black and white photography at its finest, and we’re pleased to present him with the title of Nominee.”

BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS is the leading international award honoring excellence in black and white photography. This celebrated event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honors the finest images with the highest achievements in black and white photography.

2020 Sony Alpha Award

2020 SONY Alpha Awards: Editorial category winner

2020 Sony Alpha Award

Fantastic to get this little baby in the post for winning the Editorial category at the 2020 Sony Alpha Awards! Timid’ is part of a collection of captivating portraits of the Maasai people from Tanzania. I found myself deeply inspired upon meeting the Maasai tribe and realised the opportunity to document their unique culture which is being eroded by Western influence and modern technology.

On a personal level, this reminds me of the true value of photography: preserving memories in order to relive special stories and pass them on to others. Through this series of carefully composed photographs, the Maasai people can share their rich culture with the world. The collection is presented in a film-noir monochrome, capturing these portraits in a classically timeless style; lending a unifying appearance that emulates analogue lithographic techniques. I wanted viewers to focus on the humanity aspect of each portrait: expression, body language, shape and form. I eliminated distracting colours to ensure that viewers focus on the people within the photos and make emotional connections with the Maasai. This is a documentary collection; most of the photos had little or no retouching. I waited for people to look straight into the camera so we can see highlights in their eyes.

The strength of the series is in giving viewers an opportunity to connect with the Maasai people in their natural environment. This diverse group of people serves as a timely reminder that despite our many cultural differences, we can unite as a community through the power of photography. I hope that through this portfolio viewers learn more about the Maasai culture. We are all wonderfully unique, yet at the same time, we are deeply the same.

I aim to depict the Maasai culture in an authentic and honest way, using a clear narrative style which shows the significance of their culture, as well as their individual personalities. My goal is to provoke viewers imagination regarding the traditions of the Maasai people and the stories behind their portraits. In sharing this portfolio, I encourage viewers to show tolerance: to accept all people and to recognise the value of cultural diversity. We would all experience an enhanced sense of community if we took the time to appreciate interactions which allow us to discover the world beyond our familiar boundaries. 

2020 Iris Awards – Travel Category

Travel Photography Cairo

Faces of Cairo is a collection of photographs that take you on a tour of the land and its people; the streets, the markets, the African desert, and the path of history.

Cairo is chaos at its most magnificent, infuriating and beautiful. From above, the distorted roar of the muezzins’ call to prayer echoes out from duelling minarets. Below, car horns bellow tuneless symphonies amid avenues of faded 19th-century grandeur, while donkey carts rattle down dusty lanes lined with colossal monuments. This city’s constant buzz is a product of its 30 million inhabitants, simultaneously stretching Cairo’s infrastructure, crushing it under their collective weight. The smog is heavy and car toots are overwhelming, but its energy is stimulating and exhilarating!

In January 2020, I was lucky to visit the ancient city and tell the story of its people. What stood out to me the most was how friendly the people were. I first shook their hands warmly and then asked in Arabic: “Can I take your photo?” I gave people my full attention and most were delighted to have their portrait taken, especially once they learnt that I came from Israel and that I live in New Zealand. I showed them the image on the back of my camera which made them feel respected. I consider it my privilege to be able to share these glimpses into their lives with the wider world.

I wanted to visit Cairo for a long time and was so glad when the opportunity came. I always admired the long and rich history of Egypt and found the experience of modern-day Cairo to be incredible in its own right. The whole city buzzes with all kinds of different people, and despite many of them being poor, they have a wonderful faith in Allah.

My visit to Egypt was a spiritual journey, I always dreamt of visiting Egypt. The historical link between Israel and Egypt goes back thousands of years: a history of war and peace. In reading the Haggadah during Passover Seder every year, I celebrate the ancient history together with the family. The Haggadah describes the exodus of the Israelite slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt. The most interesting part is the ten plagues that God inflicted on the Egyptian people in order to convince Pharaoh to free the Twelve Tribes.

Faces of Cairo is a documentary collection. Most of the photos had little or no retouching. I asked people to look straight into my camera, so these are not candid photos. The strength of this series is in giving viewers a rare opportunity to connect with the common Egyptian people in their natural environment. This diverse group of people serves as a timely reminder that, despite our many cultural differences, we can unite as a community through the power of photography. The collection is a celebration of our shared values: hard work, the importance of family and caring for each other as humans. I hope that through this portfolio viewers learn more about the Egyptian people. In sharing this portfolio I encourage viewers to show empathy: to accept others and to recognise the value of cultural diversity. We would all experience an enhanced sense of community if we took the time to appreciate interactions which allow us to discover the world beyond our familiar boundaries. We are all wonderfully unique, yet, at the same time, we are deeply similar.

I present these photographs in timeless monochrome, to ensure consistency and flow of the series amidst the chaos and clutter of the busy environment. My aim is to create an authentic portfolio of diverse individuals in a foreign land, to tell their stories using a clear narrative style and enduring quality. The portraits are crisp and sharp, to allow the details to inspire your imagination and to evoke emotions. I hope that viewers will experience the atmosphere and connect with the people.