Defence Force photographer finishes on a high at Ara

News News & events

30 Nov 2018

Army sniper turned photographer Sean Spivey is the first recipient of the Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA) Assistant Scholarship.

Sean Spivey's work with the Defence Force has taken him around the world

Awarded to a final year Bachelor of Design (Photography) student at Ara, the scholarship recipient is one Ara photography tutors believe most likely to become a professional commercial photographer in the future.

Sean has already ticked that box. He started taking photos during his eight years with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Infantry and, realising that he wanted to take photos full time, he made a case for the army to enroll him at Ara.

Sean Spivey, Bachelor of Design (Photography) graduate and first recipient of the Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA) Assistant Scholarship.

“I thought I could do more as a photographer for the army than I could as a grunt,” he said. “When I was crawling around in the dirt, I thought ‘someone should be photographing this’. It is such an important job. We work so hard. It is really important that general public sees the behind-the-scenes hard work that goes into it for New Zealand, otherwise you only see the bad stuff in the media.”

Sean was originally inspired by the great war photographers. “That’s where it all started – seeing those images and knowing I could be that person.”

However, his inside knowledge of NZDF will gave him a distinct advantage. “Because I went through the infantry ranks I can provide a fresh look, and a new point of view, and get right in there amongst it all, without compromising safety.”

The military life made Sean a disciplined student at Ara. Now a graduate of the degree, Sean has no student debt and a bright future ahead.

Based in Rolleston, Sean will transfer to the Air Force next year and continue to travel around the world; “where ever the guys go, a photographer will need to go with them, even to Antarctica, anywhere they are deployed”.

AIPA Executive Director Aaron K awarded the scholarship to Sean this week at Lightworkx Studio. Sean now has three months of mentoring with an AIPA member, camera equipment and access to the AIPA Assistant Training Workshop.

“Provides me an opportunity to further my skills, that’s the way I look at it, and provide more to Defence as a photographer, plus all the valuable stuff you get from being with other photographers.”

More information

Ara Institute of Canterbury photography programmes

Ara’s award winning teaching staff inspire students to reach the heights of their craft through programmes such as the Bachelor of Design (Photography).

This programme aims to develop the student as an independent artist using lens-based media. Core skills taught include design strategies, studio and location-based photography, videography, post-production, and a range of photographic genres. In addition you'll choose three courses from a range of electives, which will enable them to develop complementary skills in particular areas of interest.

As well as studio courses, students complete a group of core courses in academic subjects. These include both professional and contextual studies, which will give them developed communication skills, a background in the history and sociology of creative practices, insights into contemporary professional ethics and some business skills.


The Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA) was founded in the spring of 1978 by a small group of Auckland photographers who felt there was a need for more communication with regard to issues specific to commercial photography. This founding group knew that people working in the advertising and editorial fields were very individualistic characters (i.e. non-joiners of traditional groups) so the rules and aims of the association were framed to allow for that independence and to concentrate only on these areas of the photographic industry. Later that year the association became an incorporated society. 

The original aims of the association include:

  • To promote higher standards in commercial photography.
  • To advance and sponsor advertising and illustrative photography as a means of communication and expression.
  • To actively assist those people working in these areas whose ideals are sympathetic to those of the association through publications, workshops, exhibitions and other means.
  • To promote and cultivate public interest in photography both as an art form and a communication medium.