A special part of Te Papa’s new rehang of Framing the View (part of Nga Toi Arts Te Papa on level 5 of the museum) is a photography feature on the Whanganui River’s ‘Drop Scene’. Here I want to share the journey of one image of the river taken by Dunedin photography studio, and postcard publishers, Muir & Moodie. This photograph has been reproduced in so many different versions that you would be forgiven for thinking that they are different photographs taken on different days.
Mimicking the presentation of fine art paintings, some of the postcards have been printed with illustrated frames around the images. The application of colour varies in quality from the warm subtle tones of the postcard at the top of this page (with the ‘wood’ frame) to the more clumsy, yet oddly lush, summertime feel of the postcards (directly above and below). Some European made postcards were printed with colour inks but most had colour added by hand after printing.
Colour has been used to different effect in the versions shown here but others were not coloured after they were printed. The two postcards (below) show two versions of the scene, one in rich chocolate brown ink, and the other in black ink. Many of the postcards made of New Zealand during the early years of the 20th century were printed to order by firms in Europe. The majority of Muir & Moodie’s postcards were printed in Saxony using a photomechanical process know as the collotype.
Most postcards were sent by people who had never visited the location shown on the postcard. They often contain messages about local travel plans and the whereabouts of letters. Some messages people wrote refer to the collection of postcards and the arrangement of them in albums.
“I hope you will like the album and that it will prove suitable to the cards you have collected.”
“Dear Dorothy – Mother said I can come down to your place on Saturday. I remain yours truly, Maud”
Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography