photography

Daguerreotypes – the first photographs

In the 21st century, most of us have mobile phones, and most of those phones come equipped with a pretty good camera. We can take a photograph, add a filter, crop and edit, then share it with the world within seconds. Photography has not always been so easy and readily available.

After centuries of painstaking carving and painting to capture a likeness, in 1822, French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was the first person to make a mechanical image. He used a process called photo etching to create a permanent image on a metal plate, and was then able to use the plate to create copies of the image etched onto it.

2. Unknown child

Undated daguerreotype of an unidentified child. WRM ref: 1960.145.2

He worked with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre to further the process before passing away in 1833, but Daguerre continued with the work. He finalised the process in 1837. In 1838 he took the first photograph of a person, by accident, while he was attempting to make a daguerreotype of a street scene in Paris. Moving pedestrians and carriages are too blurry to see, but one man who was having his boots cleaned on the street corner, stayed still long enough to be captured.

In exchange for a pension from the government he allowed France to present his method as a gift to the world. Daguerreotypes were very time-consuming and intricate to make. A plate of copper was coated with silver and polished to a mirror-shine, then exposed to halogen fumes to create a layer of light-sensitive silver halide which would bear the image. Initially, exposure could take up to 70 minutes, but was refined down to only a few seconds on a bright day.

The latent image was revealed by exposing the plate to mercury fumes.  Although known to be dangerous, very little protection was taken when handling the mercury and there were reports of inattentive daguerreotypists developing mercury poisoning from it.

The plate was toned with gold chloride before being rinsed and dried, and the daguerreotypist could add colour washes to clothing and skin or gold tints to jewellery. The plate was then sealed behind a layer of glass and bound in a brass mat, before being housed in a wooden case covered with leather and padded with velvet or satin.

3. Unknown man

Undated daguerreotype of an unidentified man. WRM ref: 1802.8612

The resulting image could be seen as a positive or a negative, and had a high-shine finish, made easier to view by the padding in the case. It was a single-use image and it was not possible to make copies without creating a whole new daguerreotype. It was also quite expensive. In 1882, an advertisement for the process in the newspaper, The New Zealander, stated the daguerreotypist could take a photo in only five seconds; he charged between 10 shillings and two guineas, equivalent to $60 – $260 today.

1. Mrs J Allison

Daguerreotype of Mrs Allison, relative of Dr James Allison. WRM ref: 1975.43.19

Although it was expensive, the daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process. Its peak popularity was from the early 1840s to the mid-1860s. The Whanganui Regional Museum holds six in the collection, only one of which is named. This is Mrs J Allison, a relative of Dr James Allison who arrived in Whanganui from Glasgow in 1840.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Snapshot of Whanganui, past and present

September 2018 marks two years since Whanganui Regional Museum closed for the Whakahoutanga project, consisting of seismic strengthening and comprehensive interior renewal.

2. Post Office 1939

Model of the Wanganui Central Post Office at 62 Ridgway Street, photographed before construction was completed. Photograph by F H Bethwaite, 1939. WRM Ref: 2005.56.75

During that time the Museum has operated in temporary premises at 62 Ridgway Street. Long-time residents will remember the building as the former Wanganui Central Post Office, designed by Whanganui architect Robert Talboys, and built in 1939. The old Post and Telegraph Office on the corner of Ridgway Street and Victoria Avenue was no longer large enough to house the national telegraph activities and the local postal needs of the growing city. The project was also part of the then Labour government’s programme of public works to stimulate economic activity. No longer used for its original purpose, the building is occupied by a range of tenants.

For the final three months in this temporary location, the Museum has an exhibition of a fascinating range of Whanganui street scenes. In 1939 and 2007 two photographers from different times, different generations and using different camera technology, photographed the central business area of Whanganui. The photographs are an important record of the development of the Whanganui townscape. The 1939 photographs were taken by local business man Frank Haddow Bethwaite. The same locations were photographed in 2007 by local photographer Beverley Sinclair. The two sets of images are juxtaposed in the exhibition SNAP! Exploring the changing face of Whanganui.

1. Alexander Museum 1939

The Alexander Museum.  Photograph by F H Bethwaite, 1939. WRM Ref: 2005.56.55

Whanganui is well known for its heritage buildings, many having been built of unreinforced masonry during the reasonably prosperous 1920s, before the Napier earthquake prompted an architectural rethink of building design and materials. The more recent earthquakes in Canterbury and Kaikōura prompted a further “shake-up” of building standards. The cost of seismically strengthening a large building such as the Museum is much less costly than a complete rebuild. For some owners of private buildings, however, the economic viability of retaining earthquake-prone masonry buildings might not be realistic.

3. Whanganui Regional Museum 2007

 The Whanganui Regional Museum. Photograph by Beverley Sinclair, 2007. WRM Ref: 2008.45.55

Many grand old buildings photographed in 1939 have long since disappeared. Others remain, but like the former Post Office, have outlived their original purpose and are now used for something else. The Museum is a great example of an old 1928 masonry building that, with the 1968 extension and contemporary seismic strengthening, is still fit for purpose. In January 2019, the Museum on Watt Street will reopen and visitors can safely enjoy a completed refurbished interior that retains the character of both eras.

 

Margie Beautrais is the Educator and Team Leader of Education and Life-Long learning at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Panoramic Photographer

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

The Panoramic Photographer – R P Moore Studio

From 1923 until 1931 the R P Moore studio operated from 80 Manners Street in Wellington and specialised in commissioned panoramic views of up to 200 degrees. R P Moore was, first and foremost, a commercial photographer. His undoubted success in business was not only the result of his ability to sell, but also due to the quality of the product. Sixty to seventy years later, many of his prints hang, still treasured, in the institutions, businesses and houses for which they were made.

The studio’s photographers traversed New Zealand on commissions from the Government Tourist Department. Before travelling to specific areas, they contacted the more established local firms, institutions and individual property owners, making their services known and thus securing further commissions.

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

The Camera and Negatives

The camera used by the Moore photographers was the most technologically superior available, the No. 10 Cirkut camera made by Graflex Inc., New York. By means of a clockwork motor, the camera traversed a circular track that gave a range of up to 360 degrees (although the Moore studio rarely exceeded 200 degrees). As the camera moved from one side to the other, taking up to a minute, the mechanism simultaneously unrolled the film, each exposure being the full height of the negative but only about 8mm wide. The photographer could only determine the direction and scope of the camera’s path. There was no viewfinder and the required exposure had to be guessed. The equipment included a tripod that could be extended up to almost five metres and which came with its own ladder.

The negatives, averaging a metre in width, generated seamless images of great clarity.  Because the extent of these views replicated the act of looking, the panorama prints were very saleable objects

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

R P Moore

Robert Percy Moore was born in Christchurch in 1881. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he seems to have begun his photographic career in Australia. During World War I he was working in Queensland specialising in postcard views.

His earliest-known panoramas date from around 1919 when he had a studio in Sydney.  After eight years in Wellington from 1923 to 1931, he returned to Australia. He was back in New Zealand by 1936, because, from that year until 1941, he was based in Rotorua working in partnership with James Thompson at the Panora Studio. In 1941 he returned to Australia, and he died in Sydney seven years later.

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

The Panorama

We are so used to having pictures of landscapes around us it is hard to realise that such representations have been around for only the last 400 years. Until then landscape was used only as a background to stories about gods and goddesses or Christian stories. Pictures of landscape alone originated in 16th century Holland. The actual word “landscape”, as Simon Schama says in his recent book Landscape and Memory, “entered the English language, along with herring and bleached linen, as a Dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century.” Our experience of the landscape is of a big space, and consequently, over the past 400 years, landscape pictures have tried to get past the confines of the frame. It is the difference between looking at a view through a window and standing outside looking at the view.

By the beginning of the 18th century this had developed into a type of landscape picture known as “the view”. The aim was to show an actual place, in a way that created a sense of being there, by suggesting light and space. As the 18th century progressed “the view” picture developed into the panorama. This wider view had several origins. For instance, some of the earliest English examples were made by surveyors, and this practical charting of a real landscape is still part of the urge to make panoramas.

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

The panorama form developed further in the 19th century and became increasingly “photographic”. Although the processes of photography were not publicly announced until 1839, the earliest of them were discovered in the mid-1820s, and the first photographers automatically imitated the picture-making of the contemporary painters. From that time the panorama featured strongly in the history of photography right through to the end of the 1920s, and the work of the R P Moore studio represents a pinnacle of its achievement.  Since the mid-1980s, with a resurgence of interest in 19th century photographic forms and processes, the panorama has experienced a real revival.

By Peter Ireland

Peter Ireland is an artist and an independent curator with a special interest in photography

To selfie, or not to selfie

Love them or hate them, selfie sticks are very popular for those who don’t have arms long enough to take a good self portrait with their phone/digital camera.  Rather than take a tripod with you and set up the timer on your camera, the small collapsible sticks are easier to use and transport.  But, they pose a certain danger to Museums and the artworks and artifacts on display.

Several museums around the world have introduced a ban on selfie sticks.  The ban is not a social commentary on the equally loved and loathed sticks that seem to divide popular opinion, but rather a safety mechanism for the collections.  There have been unfortunate cases in the past where visitors with tripods have swung around the photography tool and accidentally ripped artworks or knocked over objects, and the selfie stick is seen by some institutions to offer the same threat and has been banned to try and prevent damage before it happens.

There have been a few notable instances of other damage to museums collection items.  In 2010 a woman accidentally fell into Pablo Picasso’s The Actor; and in 2006 a man tying his shoelaces slipped and smashed three Qing dynasty vases.

In New Zealand, Te Papa has bravely declared they don’t have a problem with the sticks and their visitors are welcome to use them in the spaces where photography is permitted.  As for us, we have a blanket policy of no photography within the galleries, and that includes the sticks.