History of New Zealand photography

Page 3 – A history of NZ photography in 20 photographs

This list of images was compiled by photographer Andy Palmer, who stresses that it is by no means a comprehensive or objective history. It is a personal compilation of New Zealand photographs that have some meaning for him, that he likes, and that by coincidence sketch out a history of photography in New Zealand.

See these images as a slideshow here

Lawson Insley (attributed), Edward Catchpool, 1852

Edward Catchpool daguerreotype

In 1839 Louis Daguerre announced the daguerreotype process, which along with Henry Fox Talbot’s calotype heralded the dawn of the photographic age. Because the technology was not very practical for non-studio work, the vast majority of daguerreotypes are portraits, such as this 1852 image of Edward Catchpool. More..

Elizabeth Pulman, Tamati Waka Nene, c. 1870

Waka Nene detail

Many early New Zealand photographers made part of their income from selling portraits of Māori. Elizabeth Pulman, possibly our first woman photographer, was one of them. This photo of the highly respected Ngāpuhi leader Tāmati Waka Nene is one of many cartes de visite that Pulman produced. More...

James Bragge, Five Mile Ave, 40 Mile Bush, c. 1875

James Bragge's 5 Mile Ave photograph

In the late 19th century photography was being used to document the topography of new lands. This image of ‘Five Mile Ave, 40 Mile Bush’ by Wellington photographer James Bragge was a local example, part of a series of images taken on his forays in the lower North Island. More..

T.S. Muir, Parihaka, Mt Egmont & Comet, October 1882

Comet over Mt Egmont and Parihaka photograph

Since the birth of photography the retouching of images has been a common practice, and this comet definitely looks to have been painted on. But rather than detracting from the scene the retouching actually reinforces it – the eye is drawn through the village to the mountain and then the comet. More...

George Valentine, Mount Tarawera and Ruawahia from Te Ariki, 1886

See full image

George Valentine was one of a number of topographic photographers who were lucky enough to see the Pink and White Terraces shortly before they were destroyed by the Mt Tarawera eruption. And like many, he went back to document the aftermath. More..

Henry Winkelmann, The Environment, 1905

Winkelmann image of bush

Although he is better known for his nautical images, Auckland photographer Henry Winkelmann also produced this magnificent photograph of a kauri forest at Whangaroa. It demonstrates both the immensity of the kauri forests at the turn of last century and the conditions workers were faced with. More..

George Bourne, Flax flying machine over Auckland, 1917

George Bourne montage

There is a common perception that in pre-Photoshop days photographers didn’t manipulate their pictures or make composite images. However, the photomontage is almost as old as photography itself, with photographers often making their images from more than one negative. More..

George Chance, Summer Day, South Canterbury, c. 1933

George Chance photograph

As photography matured, practitioners started toying with artistic approaches. Around the turn of the 20th century the mode du jour was pictorialism, a style that stressed atmosphere over subject matter. George Chance flew the flag for pictorialism in New Zealand, producing some beautiful, iconic and popular images. More...

John Pascoe, Official VE Celebrations at Government Buildings, Wellington, May 1945

Detail from Pascoe photograph

John Pascoe was an everyman: law clerk, adventurer and explorer, government photographer, chief archivist and family man. Inspired by the 1930s school of documentary photography, Pascoe captured a New Zealand that had previously been largely ignored by the photographer’s gaze. More...

Spencer Digby, Brian Brake, late 1940s

Brian Brake photograph

Spencer Digby was one of New Zealand’s finest commercial photographers. Primarily known for his portrait work, most famously the ubiquitous portrait of Michael Joseph Savage, he was committed to producing work of the highest standard, whether his subject was a politician, accountant, lawyer, debutante or university graduate. More...

Leo White, Waikato River, 1940s

Brian Brake photograph

Alongside their well-known aerial photographs, Whites Aviation also produced large, hand-coloured scenic images which graced the walls of many a home. Hand-colouring, literally adding colour to black and white images by hand, has been done since the days of the daguerreotype. More...

John Johns, Burnt [20 year old] stand of Corsican Pine, Balmoral Forest, Canterbury, 1955

Balmoral forest

English immigrant John Johns was employed by the New Zealand Forest Service from 1951 to 1984 and contributed to numerous books on our country’s plants and environment. His best works, such as Forest Fires, Balmoral 1955, are not just beautifully composed images but also reflect his environmental concerns. More...

Brian Brake, Untitled (dairy farmers), 1960

Dairy farmers

Brian Brake is one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised photographers. Though he was based in London, his work took him around the globe and he regularly returned to New Zealand. This photo of a group of farmers appeared in his seminal 1963 book, New Zealand, gift of the sea. More...

George Palmer, Kodachrome snapshot collection, c. 1964–75

Kodachrome images

The Kodak Brownie democratised photography. The camera and film were cheap and the camera was easy to use, making it possible for more people to take photographs. Because the camera could be handheld, the way people photographed also changed, and soon the snapshot was born. More...

Gladys Goodall, Memorial to the sheepdogs of the Mackenzie Country, Lake Tekapo, 1967–8

Sheepdog memorial

In 1960 Gladys Goodall signed a contract with Whitcombe and Tombs to provide colour images for postcards, calendars and slides. She became a household name, producing numerous ‘Panorama’ books and around 1800 postcards. Her photo of the statue to working dogs in Tekapo is typical of her work. More...

Peter Black, Selwyn Toogood, Levin, 1981

Selwyn Toogood, Levin, 1981

Black’s early work was primarily street photography – shots of things he saw while wandering. Though this may seem simple, it is surprisingly hard to get images as strong as Black’s. This photograph of Selwyn Toogood will elicit a response from generations of New Zealanders who remember him on TV. More..

Wayne Barrar, Beneath Bowen Falls To Mitre Peak, Fiordland, 2000

Wayne Barrar photograph

Barrar is perhaps better known overseas than in his home country, primarily because his approach and, particularly, his concerns – influenced by and reflecting the 1970s so-called ‘New Topographics’ movement – have never been very fashionable here. More..

Andy Palmer, Taranaki, 11 June 2003

Andy Palmer photograph

Usually a photograph is taken in a fraction of a second, a fleeting moment that is never repeated. But a camera can also be used to capture a longer period of time, like the rotation of the earth demonstrated ;in the faint star trails in this photograph of Mt Taranaki at night. More..

Ben Cauchi, Mere, 2002

Ben Cauchi ambrotype

Alongside huge leaps in digital photography, the first decade of the 21st century saw a renewed interest in old, and alternative, photographic processes. While he is not the only local practitioner, Ben Cauchi has been at the forefront of this resurgence in New Zealand. More..

Laurence Aberhart, Memorial, Okaiawa, Taranaki, 28 November 2008

Laurence Aberhart photograph

The 1970s saw a growth of art photography in New Zealand, thanks in part to the work of Photoforum. Laurence Aberhart was one photographer who quickly found his style. He tends to concentrate on things about to be lost, and vernacular architecture. Produced with superb technical ability, Aberhart’s prints are stunning to behold. More..

How to cite this page

'A history of NZ photography in 20 photographs', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/nz-photography/20-photos, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-Apr-2023

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