As Polynesian navigators voyaged across the Pacific; in the Chinese city of Pingyao, its citizens were building walls. Some 650 years later, the two cultures will meet in the still-walled city at the world's largest photography festival.

Work by contemporary Maori and Pacific photographers travels across the ocean to join 10,000 images from all over the world at the Pingyao International Photography Festival.

They're bound to catch the eye.

It's the first time a contingent of Maori and Pacific photographers has been invited to take part and it includes a who's who of contemporary art photographers: Siliga David Setoga, Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes, Tanu Gago, Ane Tonga, Grant Apiata, Linda T, Raymond Sagapolutele, Russ Flatt, Lisa Reihana, Emily Mafile'o, Pati Solomona Tyrell and Natalie Robertson.

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"I don't want to jump the gun here," says Ata Te Tangata curator Rosanna Raymond, "but I think it's also the first time a combined group of photographers of Maori and Pacific descent from Aotearoa New Zealand have joined forces for such a large show."

But Raymond, known and noted as an artist, writer and performer who comments on modern Pacific Islands' culture, cautions the 80 images might not be what anyone expects. She wanted pictures which tell new stories about the contemporary Polynesian experience unique to New Zealand.

"I didn't want tourist brochure destination Pacific Islands' type of work. I wanted work that showed the different ways 'to be a Pacific Islander' - unique insights into life here and now."

She says Pacific people and landscapes have been viewed and constructed through the lens of Western eyes and cameras since first contact.

"Photography played a huge part in contributing to the visual mythology that defined the Pacific body, the land and ocean. Ata Te Tangata redefines the gaze.

"The person behind the lens is genealogically and geographically a part of the community they are portraying. This allows for more nuanced representations, reflecting the world around them."

The opportunity to participate at Pingyao is thanks to the Auckland Festival of Photography, a founding member of the six-year-old Asia Pacific Photoforum, which links together photography festivals from across the region.

After the international exposure, Ata Te Tangata will be shown as part of 2017's Festival of Photography - and may yet tour elsewhere. Raymond cautions it will need a big space.

What: Ata Te Tangata, Pingyao International Photography Festival, China.
When: September 19 - 25