Key Points:

Sacrebleu! A rugby player in the arts pages ... Monsieur Philemon Toleafoa, formerly of Mt Albert, and prop for one of France's top teams, the Montpellier Herault Rugby Club.

Toleafoa, all 1.92m and 125kg of him, is one of the subjects of Auckland photographer Edith Amituanai's new series - images of New Zealand-Samoan rugby players based in France and Italy, shot over a period of five weeks last year in a project supported by a Creative NZ grant.

The series is named Dejeuner, French for "lunch", after one of the family get-togethers Toleafoa was most homesick for.

"Philemon has been in France for five years, he went over when he was 19," says Amituanai. "That was the thing that he commented to me, that he missed the Sunday lunch at his grandma's. I know his grandma."

Amituanai, a 2005 graduate from Unitec's bachelor of design course, is considered a rising star in New Zealand's new generation of photographers, with work held in Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery collections.

She was a finalist in the 2004 Waikato National Contemporary Art Award and she features in the recently released book Contemporary New Zealand Photography. Her most recent exhibition was Mrs Amituanai, a study of the wedding and related events when she became the first Mrs Amituanai in her husband's home since the death of his mother 14 years before.

Her subjects are the Samoan community in this country, all the generations, and how they interact with each other. The photos are not spontaneous.

"I pose them. I make sure my subjects understand what I am trying to communicate and I brief them on what I am trying to do. I find they know more about what I am trying to communicate than I do and they often suggest, 'What about this instead?'

"They enjoy it. It's almost like acting out a little drama, and I'm never short of models."

Amituanai became interested in the subject of the rugby players because she knew or was related to some of them. She was intrigued by what she calls the "third wave" of migration as Samoans go out into the world to seek new opportunities, as their parents did when they migrated to New Zealand. "I could see this opportunity that my parents had talked about, going to this new place.

"It's a window for the players, they are only as good as their bodies allow them to stay in the game. These people live year to year with their contracts - they don't know if they are going home, or changing clubs."

As with previous work, Amituanai had intended to photograph the players - including Carl Manu in Grand Parma and Murphy Papihi Taele, also playing for Montpellier - at home, in their European domestic interiors. That didn't work out so well.

"The places were quite minimalist, quite temporary. The places were smaller especially in Italy and exactly like mine, they had recreated the home away from home. I was quite upset with that - I thought their homes would look more French or Italian."

So it was out on to the field. "Philemon introduced me to his coach and said this is a photographer from New Zealand, she is supported by the Government and she has come to photograph us. He was shocked, and immediately interested."

There is one image in the show, of Carl Manu at his parents' home in Auckland, standing in front of a shrine literally dedicated to him. "People ask me if I set it up but no. There are rugby photos, medals, memorabilia right around the wall, everything he has done is on the wall. His parents are terribly proud yet their son is absent.

"When I got back the parents really wanted to know what it was like for the boys over there, and the boys looked at me for news from home."