A photographer with acclaimed work on display at Te Takere found roots in Levin he never knew he had.

Paul Knight had always passed through Levin as a youngster, but it wasn't until he moved here 20 years ago that he realised that ancestors were buried here.

He discovered his great-grandmother Fanny Hilton lay in an unmarked grave at the Mako Mako Road cemetery.

And his grandfather Jim Knight was a journalist in Ōtaki before becoming founding editor of the Levin Chronicle when it amalgamated with other newspaper from the area.

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"Fanny Hilton migrated from England and died six years after arriving," he said.

"I didn't know...I started doing the family history and discovered that."

"It's given me a strong bond with Levin that I didn't know I had."

It was the second time that Mr Knight had displayed his work at Te Takere. He enjoyed an opportunity to display his work and many adorned the walls at Whispers Cafe in Levin.

"If they are not on display then they are in a box at home," he said.

"And it's not a profit making scheme at all - it's more an addiction than a business. In no case do I sell much."

"I get a really good response from people and that's what makes it worthwhile."

He couldn't remember how or why he became involved with photography in his early teenage years with a Kodak box camera, and marvelled at how photography had changed.

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Initially he repelled the temptation to convert to digitised photography as "the quality wasn't that good".

But eventually he yielded as it meant you could take multiple photographs with an increased likelihood of grabbing "that shot".

"Eventually I changed because one of my major goals was to photograph native birds in flight, particularly fantails and as you can imagine, it's not easy."

With the old film cameras you could come away empty handed.

"You could pay for film and pay for development and get nothing...that's why I changed," he said.

"I have never been a professional photographer but during a five-year period in Japan I was often able to spend one or two days a week taking photos."

"After a while, I had work selected for exhibitions and was at least able to earn from sales enough to meet expenses."

One work titled Friends at Wajima Morning Market from his time in Japan received worldwide acclaim and featured in the MILK (Moments of Intimacy, Love and Kindness) series.

Of the initial 40,000 photographs entered for the MILK series, his Wajima photo made the final 300.

Much of his work involved tinkering with different backgrounds as he layered a photo to represent its final form. He said he wasn't compromising his photography - it was the artistic method he used to create an end form.

He could spend weeks removing the background to an image to get the desired result.

"I'm not pretending...most of them have had some work done to them," he said.

Since 1969 Mr Knight had taught Japanese and related subjects at Massey University in Palmerston North.

His work had been used for the covers of texts and other publications, for CD labels and graphics in multimedia programmes for learning Japanese.