The Historical Photography Collection comprises negatives, transparencies, and original prints. There are also groups of negatives from significant photographers or studios, such as the Burton Brothers, Thomas Andrew, Leslie Adkin, and Spencer Digby. Rather than being a comprehensive photographic history, the collection’s strength lies in the specific points of focus represented by these photographers.
The Historical Photography Collection began from the early days of the Colonial Museum and consists of photographs taken by staff as well as collected photography. It was primarily taken and collected as illustrative material for the various research interests of the Museum.
Ethnography, the scientific description of races and cultures, was a particular interest of the Museum at this time. Some ethnographic photography was carried out by museum staff, and collections of commercial photography and tourist publicity photographs of Maori and Pacific subjects were acquired by the Museum. For this reason, Te Papa has an extensive collection of early images of Maori and Pacific peoples.
Highlights of the collection include:
American Photographic Company
The American Photographic Company was run by John McGarrigle in the late 1860s to early 1870s in Auckland. Little is known about the studio or McGarrigle but he seems to have concentrated on studio portraits of Maori. In 1873 he advertised that the American Photographic Company had the largest stock of ‘Maori’ celebrities in New Zealand.
The Burton Brothers collection of about five thousand original glass negatives is one of the greatest strengths of the photography collection. The Burtons were one of the biggest photographic companies in nineteenth century New Zealand, and Alfred Burton covered many regions of the country with his ‘views’.
James Bragge was a Wellington photographer who was active in the 1870s as a landscape photographer. His negatives are notable for being amongst the largest in the collection, at 10x12 or 12x15 inches (or 250mm x 300mm and 300mm x 375mm) in size.
Thomas Andrew was a New Zealand photographer who lived in Apia, Samoa from 1891 until his death in 1939. He created a series of studio portraits of Pacific peoples and documented the conflict between the colonial powers of Britain, Germany, and the United States around 1900.
James McDonald was a photographer and artist for the Dominion Museum over the period 1905-26. During the early 1920s, he accompanied anthropologist Elsdon Best on ethnographic trips up the Wanganui River and to the North Island’s East Coast and Rotorua.
William Berry was a studio photographer in Wellington’s Cuba St from the 1890s to about 1930. Taken together, his photographs of people create a revealing cross-section of society.
Leslie Adkin was a Horowhenua farmer who was a noted amateur geologist and ethnologist. Photography was also a passion and he documented every aspect of his life, from his family to his scientific interests, from the 1910s until the 1950s.
Gordon H Burt
Gordon Burt was a major advertising photographer in Wellington from the mid-1920s to the 1950s.
Spencer Digby ran a well-known and prestigious Wellington studio from 1936 to 1960. Ron Woolf purchased the business in 1960 and later gifted all the approximately 40,000 negatives to Te Papa.
Brian Brake made his name as a Magnum photo agency photographer in the 1950s and 1960s working for the major international illustrated journals of the day, such as Life magazine. He is well known for his photography of China in 1957 and 1959 and his 1960 ‘Monsoon’ essay on the monsoon season in India.