One of the nicest things about having so much of Te Papa’s photography collection online is when people write in to say that we hold a photograph of some of their ancestors and are able to identify the people in the photographs. Until recently this large framed photograph of the Read family (above) was simply a good large (620mm x 525 mm) example of a late 19th century form of studio portrait on white ‘opal’ glass (know as an opalotype). However it was only when Vivienne Morrell wrote to say that the photograph was of her great grandparents and future grandmother, Winifred, that we were able to identify the people in the photograph as Robert and Ruth Read with their three daughters Winifred (left), Evelyn (centre) and Violet. While we still don’t know which photography studio made the portrait – we now know that it could have been made by a studio in Whanganui where the family lived.
You can read more about the Read family in Vivienne’s blog.
Another recent contact has been the great granddaughter of Edward and Sarah Corner, Ann McDonald. Te Papa holds this glass ‘copy’ negative (above) – which is a photograph of a cabinet card print made by a photographer in Whitby, UK.
This copy negative was made some time in the first two decades of the 20th century. Ann tells me that her copy of the print has the date 1901, which she says means the portrait was taken to commemorate the Corner’s golden wedding anniversary. Clearly the number of copies sent to their New Zealand based family wasn’t enough and one of the prints was taken into Berry & Co to be copied. Here is the front and back of Ann’s print but it doesn’t look to be the extact same print photographed by Berry & Co in Te Papa’s negative:
I only updated the information about this image on the museum’s database within the last six months and Ann’s email came to me not long after. So even though the image had been online for some years, the recently added information (the names of the original photographer and the family name inscribed by Berry & Co on the glass negative), means that when you search for the these details online search engines now find this photograph.
One of the challenges at Te Papa is recording information written on the large number of photographs we hold onto the database so that while the images are online – they can be found by the people who are looking for them.
Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography
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