I am quite fond of some of the new photographs in the collection which are a set of cabinet card format studio portraits from the late nineteenth century. Many of them were taken by photographers working in the South Island in places such as Lyttelton, Ashburton, Gore and Blenheim. I’m interested in the way these humble former personal records give us a sense of the effort and attention to detail some early photographers had, alongside the similarity in expectations that people wanting to be photographed had whether in the bigger cities or in small provincial areas.
The constructed landscape settings in the two photographs by George Hillsdon (above) suggest a surprising amount of effort on the part of the photographer to contrive an artistic version of the outdoors inside a room in a small town studio. While the relaxed and confident man (below) photographed in Gore by Charles Clayton, and known only as ‘Fred’, looks like a southern version of an urban flâneur about to step out into bustling city streets.
The lovely portrait of a well dressed woman and child (below) is remarkably well identified with the names – Winifred Hood (maiden name Tweedie) and baby Lawrence Hood – clearly written on the back by someone long ago. Hopefully decedents will be able to locate this digitised version of the original photograph.
Blenheim photographer William Macey’s cabinet cards elevated the cabinet card format to an art form. Compared with the rougher card and stamped studio name of the Ashburton firm (above), Macey’s photograph of a woman wearing a striped blouse and spectacles, is mounted on a high quality white broad with shaped gold trimmed edges – giving the effect of a frame. While Macey’s monogram, name and studio address are all printed in gold lettering along the bottom.
The portrait of a man (below) by Christchurch photographers, Burrell Brothers, introduces the concept of trick photography to the cabinet card format. The photograph is printed using a trompe d’oeil effect (an art technique) that gives the illusion of the portrait appearing to be on a loose curling page – a picture within a picture.
Meanwhile the simple intimacy of two men is captured in the photograph (below) by Wellington studio, Wrigglesworth & Binns.
Lastly, from the far north, is a memorial photograph of a grave taken by a photographer based in Whangarei.
Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography