• Jae Frew

Jae Frew is a leading contemporary portrait photographer living in Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland.

Frew’s commercial career in the advertising, magazine, and film industries spans over 30 years and the highly respected and sought-after photographer lists prime ministers, heads of state, TV personalities, corporate CEO’s, film and television actors, and prominent sports people among his subjects. Preferring to offer minimal direction during a shoot, Frew’s approach to portraiture is to encourage authenticity in the sitter, allowing space for the subject’s true essence, or what they wish to convey, to be revealed and captured.

With time and space to pursue his own photographic projects during the 2020 / 2021 lockdowns, Frew began exploring and shaping Manu Kōingo – Birds of Yearning, a concept that had been on his mind for many years – to create a series of works that speaks to and engages the interests of his youth while raising awareness of our fragile and diminishing forest life.

As a boy Frew kept a large aviary in his parents’ backyard. There, he cared for and observed the inhabiting birds while their characteristics, distinctive movements, and beauty were revealed, leaving an indelible impression on Frew’s curious young mind. The flint of another lasting passion was sparked during his youth, as Frew spent time learning the art of creating fine furniture in wood under the tutelage of his cabinetmaker father.

Through his collection of photographic portraits in Manu Kōingo – Birds of Yearning, Frew pays tribute to New Zealand’s extinct and endangered native wildlife, bringing together his in-depth knowledge of portraiture with a lifelong interest in birds, and fervour for creating objects with wood.

With respect to New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage, the naming of the exhibition was a significant experience for Frew, and as such he consulted with Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, (Emeritus Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku – MA (Hons) PhD FAWMM MNZM), who he had met while taking her portrait during the filming of ‘Waharoa – Art of the Pacific’, of which she was the presenter.

He explains, “Manu means ‘bird’ (or any winged creature), and ‘Kōingo’ means yearning, fretting, longing, remembering, and trying to retrieve – a place, an object, a person; usually gone forever. This name, ‘Manu Kōingo’ was conceived by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Emeritus Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku – MA(Hons) PhD FAWMM MNZM). It expresses a sense of hope for our remaining native birds, while also bringing awareness to their conservation and what treasures they are to Aotearoa New Zealand.”

The formal, fine-art style of Frew’s large-scale portraits of birds, with their darkened Victorian backgrounds and heavy wooden frames, calls to mind the solemn dignity of 19th century portraiture, a symbol of status that the subject was beloved, important, or revered. By framing his subject in grand, bespoke frames, Frew further elevates the status of each bird to that of our ancestors. While reminiscent of a vanished era, the photographs offer a reminder to treasure and protect what remains in the present. This emphasis on elevation of status speaks to the sense of importance and urgency that Frew feels for the preservation of our native species of birds and forest life.

Frew was granted access to collections and specimens held within institutions such as Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, spending hours observing his subject from every angle, just as he did as a boy with the birds in his aviary. By capturing his still life avian subjects in ways that would have us believe they might suddenly stir and take flight or turn their head to meet our gaze, Frew has resurrected these dormant specimens. An evocative sense of each bird’s personality is revealed, offering an invitation to the viewer – in the tradition of viewing portraiture – to attribute and project character, temperament, memories, and history to each subject, to connect as we would with a portrait of someone known to us, a loved one, family member, or ancestor.

Frew designs the profile for each of his frames with careful and sensitive consideration to how a frame belongs and relates to each subject. Creating, shaping, joining, and painting the lengths of moulding by hand from reclaimed and salvaged native timber, he is connected to and honours the skills taught to him by his father, while elevating and bringing new life to cast-away remnants of our endangered timber.

Manu Kōingo (Birds of Yearning) honours New Zealand’s forest life. Our forests, that once carpeted our hills from north to south, were filled with birdsong and lush growth of native flora. Today, only a palimpsest of these treasures remains, traces of presence read as though they were manuscripts – words washed away and written over with songs of industry and human expansion. Birds once prized for their plumage, such as the huia, fell victim to the fashion for feathered hats, while countless other species were, and are, easy prey for introduced stoats and rats or to the quiet ravages of habitat loss. The present-day experience of our extinct and endangered species takes place in museums, viewing sculptural artefacts and taxidermied specimens residing in glass cages. Likewise, the giant podocarps of pre-European days: kauri, rimu, totora, and matai, were felled in swathes to make way for farmland and to create materials for housing. Our surviving trees cling on in native reserves and managed forests while dedicated conservationists, such as Forest & Bird (Te Reo o te Taiao), work tirelessly to ensure our remaining endangered birds survive, and that our forests are protected as well as enjoyed.

Opening Hours

  • Mon-Fri: 10.00am – 5.30pm
  • Sat: 10.00am – 4.00pm
  • Sun: 11.00am – 4.00pm


  • 263 Parnell Rd
  • Parnell, Auckland 1052