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History of New Zealand photography

Page 2 – Photography timeline

For centuries the camera obscura was used to form images on walls of darkened rooms. The first photograph as we know it was made in 1826 by recording on a sheet of light-sensitive paper an image formed using a portable camera obscura. The earliest possible use of photography in New Zealand was in 1841, a year after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, when the total European population was just a few thousand.

Overseas events/developments are in italics.



  • Captain Lucas, of the French barque Justine, makes daguerrotypes in Sydney. He may also have taken photographs in the Bay of Islands, but none have yet been located.


  • In the first recorded instance of a daguerreotype being made in New Zealand, Lieutenant-Governor Edward Eyre photographs Eliza Grey, the wife of Governor George Grey, on the verandah of Government House in Wellington. The picture fails.
  • J. Polack and J. Newman set up studios in Auckland.
  • H.B. Sealy sets up a studio in Wellington.


Wet Plate Collodion Process video
  • Frederick Archer, an English professional photographer, develops the collodion wet plate process, which while complex has many advantages over daguerreotypes and calotypes.


  • New Plymouth photographer Lawson Insley makes a portrait of Caroline and Sarah Barrett, the daughters of a local publican. This is the earliest known photographic portrait of Māori.


  • Parisian photographer Adolph Disderi popularises the carte-de-visite (visiting card), a small photographic portrait print stuck onto card which becomes a popular collectors' item.


  • Christchurch doctor Alfred Barker takes his first authenticated photographs. He is responsible for documenting much of Christchurch's early development. 


Topine Te Mamaku
  • Alfred and Walter Burton start Burton Brothers’ photographic business in Dunedin. While Walter runs the successful studio portrait side of the business, Alfred travels the country making topographical images and photographing Māori. It is Alfred’s photographs which ensured the brothers’ legacy.


  • Richard Maddox, an English amateur photographer, invents the first workable silver bromide gelatin emulsion, which eliminates the need for wet-plate photography and leads directly to modern photographic films.


  • The first printed photograph to appear in a daily newspaper, the New York Graphic, is made using a photoengraving technique.


Pink Terraces by Daniel Mundy
  • Daniel Mundy, perhaps the first New Zealand photographer to concentrate exclusively on the landscape, publishes Rotomahana: the boiling spring of New Zealand, with a foreword by the geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter. This is one of the first books to use the autotype process, which allows photographs to be reproduced in a printing press with all their half-tones (shades of grey) intact.


James Bragge's truck
  • Wellington photographer James Bragge publishes 50 of his topographical works in Wellington to Wairarapa, among the rarest volumes of photographs produced in this country. Two years later he ventures north of Masterton and takes the newly completed road through the Manawatū Gorge. Bragge runs a successful studio in Wellington that attracts many prominent clients.


  • George Eastman starts the Eastman Dry Plate Company. In the 1930s this is renamed Kodak Eastman.


  • In 1880 the Graphic publishes ‘the first reproduction of a photograph with a full tonal range in a newspaper’ with a crude half-tone screen. The process uses black dots of varying size to simulate monochromatic tones. Parisian magazine L’Illustration prints the first photomechanical colour illustrations in 1881.


  • William Travers, Arthur Bothamly and others set up the Wellington Photographic Society, the first in the country. It appears not to have lasted very long.


Auckland Photographic Society logo
  • The Auckland Photographic Society is formed. Within a few years it is failing, but it is rejuvenated in 1889 by George Valentine, among others. This too lapses, but an Auckland Camera Club is formed in 1895 and later renames itself the Auckland Photographic Society.


  • Mt Tarawera erupts, burying the Pink and White Terraces. Many photographers visit the Terraces before the eruption and a number, including George Valentine and the Burton Brothers, revisit the area to document the destruction.


  • Celluloid is first used as a base for photographic emulsion in place of glass, leading to the development of flexible photographic film.



  • Sharland, suppliers of photographic equipment, start publishing New Zealand’s first photography serial, Sharland’s New Zealand Photographer, edited by Auckland photographer Josiah Martin. The last issue is published in 1911.
  • The Wellington Camera Club is formed. It soon becomes the Wellington Amateur Photographic Society, and later the Wellington Photographic Society.


  • The Otago Witness is the first New Zealand newspaper to publish photographs.


  • Photographs taken by Katarina Hansard (Ngāpuhi) appear in a volume of The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Operating studios with her husband and daughter in Kaikohe, Kawakawa, Christchurch and Dunedin, she is possibly the first Māori professional photographer.


  • Thomas Muir and George Moodie, photographers on the staff of Burton Brothers, buy the company from Alfred Burton (Walter Burton having died in 1880) and build on its extensive back catalogue. Renaming the company Muir & Moodie, they dominate the scenic view trade until the company is dissolved in 1915.


Brownie camera
  • The Kodak Brownie is introduced, making photography much more accessible to the general public.


  • The Department of Tourist and Health Resorts is set up, the first government tourist department in the world. It employs Thomas Pringle to produce pictorial images to promote tourism.


Cromwell Shepherd on a motorbike outside house.
  • Cromwell Shepherd (Ngāpuhi) starts photographing tourists and tourism sites at Rotomahana, Tarawera and the Buried Village around this time. He is possibly the first professional male Māori photographer, photographing tourist sites and infrastructure projects for the government, and operating studios at Cambridge, Rotorua, and Auckland during the 1920s and 1930s.


  • Panchromatic black and white film becomes available, allowing the recording of a wider tonal range and giving a more realistic rendition than earlier films.


  • Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiére start manufacturing Autochrome plates, the first practical system of colour photography.


Joseph Divis at Waiuta
  • Bohemian immigrant Joseph Divis starts working in, and photographing, West Coast mines, notably Waiuta, to which he moves in 1912. After creating an extensive archive of life at Waiuta, Divis apparently stops taking photographs in the mid- to late-1930s.


Image by Thomas Scales
  • Captain Henry Armytage Sanders is appointed as New Zealand’s first official war photographer and cameraman. His task is to document the activities of the New Zealand Division on the Western Front (France and Belgium).
  • A few weeks after Sanders’ appointment, Thomas Frederick Scales is appointed to the New Zealand Army Service Corps as ‘Cinema Expert for New Zealand Units in England’. Scales is responsible for recording everyday life at the New Zealand training camps and the experience of convalescing at the New Zealand hospitals in England.


  • George Bourne, chief photographer with the Auckland Weekly News, takes the first aerial photograph in New Zealand. By 1926 aerial photography is being used in surveys; the first topographical maps based on aerial photographs are produced in 1939.


  • The Government Publicity Office is formed as a branch of the Department of Internal Affairs, employing one movie cameraman (who occasionally does still photography) and two still photographers (who occasionally do movie work). When the National Film Unit and National Publicity Studio are formed in 1941 they continue to produce tourist publicity material.


Leica I Model A camera
  • Leitz starts marketing the Leica I Model A rangefinder camera, which uses sprocketed 35-mm movie film and has interchangeable lenses.
  • The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin features a photography section of more than 1000 international images curated by Dunedin dentist and photographer George Chance.


  • Rollei introduces the Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera.


  • At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harold (Doc) Edgerton develops and improves photographic strobe lights (flashes).


  • The Fuji Photo Film Company is founded as part of a Japanese government plan to establish a domestic photographic film manufacturing industry.


Detail from early Kodachrome photo
  • Kodak starts producing Kodachrome, the first multi-layered colour transparency (slide) film.


  • German camera manufacturers Ihagee release the Kine-Exakta, a pioneering 35-mm single-lens reflex (SLR) that features many characteristics now commonly associated with 35-mm SLRs.


  • Patricia Miller (later Ramai Hayward) opens a studio in Devonport, Auckland.
  • Feilding photographer Bert Hobday founds the North Island Photographers Association (NIPA). Shortly after the Second World War an Institute of New Zealand Photographers is formed and incorporated. This institute and the NIPA amalgamate in 1947 to form a New Zealand Professional Photographers’ Association to represent the business interests of professional photographers throughout New Zealand. In the early 1990s the NZPPA rebrands itself as the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers (NZIPP).


Image from Crete by J. Murphy
  • Levin-born George Silk becomes a photographer for Australia’s Department of Information. He follows Australian troops into battle in Greece, Egypt and Papua New Guinea. In 1943 he is employed as a photojournalist for Life magazine, for which he works until the magazine folds in 1972. Silk becomes famous for shooting the first pictures of Nagasaki after an atomic bomb is dropped on the Japanese city in August 1945.


  • New Zealand Army appoints its first official photographers. George Kaye and Harold Paton are the main photographers, but others working during the Second World War include George Bull, Mervyn Elias and Cyril Hayden. In 1942 Leo White joins the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a photographer, and John Pascoe is appointed official war photographer to document experiences on the ‘Home Front’.


  • A year after their first public demonstration, Polaroid starts selling the Model 95 camera and Type 40 film, the first instant black and white film.


  • The New Zealand Professional Photographers’ Association starts publishing the quarterly magazine The New Zealand Studio. The last issue is published in 1975.


Photographic Society of NZ logo
  • The inauguration of the Photographic Society of New Zealand brings together more than 30 camera clubs. Today more than 60 clubs with more than 800 members are affiliated to the PSNZ. In 1954 it launches New Zealand Camera magazine.


  • New Zealand-born, London-based photographer Brian Brake is granted full membership of the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos, which he holds until 1967. He is the only New Zealander to have been a member of the prestigious agency.


  • Polaroid produces its five-millionth camera and starts selling the first colour instant film.
  • The Kodak Instamatic camera is introduced. Its easy-to-use cartridge-loading film lifts amateur photography to new heights of popularity.
  • Brian Brake and Maurice Shadbolt publish New Zealand: gift of the sea. The book is a best-seller and sets a new benchmark for the photographic representation of this country. Brake’s informal documentary approach is a substantial break from the status quo.


Image from Washday at the Pa
  • The publication of Ans Westra’s Washday at the pa by the Department of Education causes controversy. The Minister of Education orders the destruction of all copies of the book after the Māori Women’s Welfare League complains that it depicts a ‘non-average’ (i.e., poor) Māori family. Christchurch’s Caxton Press republishes it a year later.


  • Tom Hutchins becomes New Zealand’s first full-time lecturer in photography and film. He remains at the University of Auckland until 1980, joined by Max Oettli (technical instructor, 1970) and John B. Turner (lecturer, 1971).


  • The unseen city: 123 photographs of Auckland by Gary Baigent is published. Full of rough, grainy, contrasting, black and white images, the book is seen as an antidote to ‘beautiful New Zealand’ picture books. It is said to be ‘perhaps more significant for its timing and intention than its actual content’.


Photoforum magazine
  • The first issue of Photographic Art & History is published. After four issues the journal is renamed New Zealand Photography, 13 issues of which appear before it becomes PhotoForum in 1974.
  • John B. Turner curates the Nineteenth Century New Zealand Photographs travelling exhibition for the newly opened Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth.


  • Hardwicke Knight publishes Photography in New Zealand: a social and technical history. This overview of New Zealand photography concentrates on individual photographers rather than being a comprehensive history.


  • Moko: Maori tattooing in the 20th century, a collaboration between photographer Marti Friedlander and historian Michael King, is published by Alister Taylor. The book has been republished a number of times, most recently in 2008.


  • Barry Hesson’s Victoria Market Gallery, New Zealand’s first specialist photography gallery, opens in Wellington. It lasts only nine months.
  • PhotoForum is founded in Auckland by a small group of photographers to promote photography in New Zealand, especially through PhotoForum magazine. The first issue is published in 1974.


1st digital camera
  • Kodak builds the first working CCD-based (charge-coupled device) digital still camera. The prototype is the size of a toaster and captures black and white images at a resolution of 10,000 pixels (0.01 megapixels).
  • Glenn Busch, with the assistance of Tom Elliot and Alan Leatherby, opens Snaps – A Photographer’s Gallery in Airedale St, Auckland. It closes in 1981.
  • Luit Bieringa, the director of the Manawatu Art Gallery, and PhotoForum organise The active eye, a national survey of contemporary photography. In 2000 a new survey show, up:date//the active eye, is launched at the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui.
  • Wellington Polytechnic starts a course for photographic technicians, the first tertiary-level photography course in New Zealand. Run by William Main, its first graduates include press photographer Ross Giblin and artist Peter Black.


  • PhotoForum (Wellington Inc.), a sister organisation of PhotoForum, is founded for photographers south of Taupō. PhotoForum Gallery opens in 1977 with Leslie Haines and Sharyn Black as volunteer directors. The society continues for some years after the gallery closes in 1981.


  • Konica releases the first production autofocus camera.
  • William Main opens Exposures Gallery in Wellington. It closes in the late 1980s.


  • The Advertising and Illustrative Photographers Association is founded in Auckland by a small group of advertising and editorial photographers.
  • Diane Arbus: retrospective, a show of 118 photographs by the internationally renowned American photographer, tours seven New Zealand galleries and museums under the auspices of the Arts Council of New Zealand, influencing a new generation of local photographers.


  • Ian McDonald and Peter Webb found the Real Pictures photographic laboratory in His Majesty’s Theatre and Arcade in central Auckland, and then open Real Pictures Gallery. Doug Owens later buys out McDonald and the gallery is relocated to Grey Lynn before closing in 1990.


From the Road - Robin Morrison: Photo Journalist
  • Alister Taylor publishes Robin Morrison’s The South Island of New Zealand from the road. The influence of Morrison’s approach to the photographic representation of New Zealand is apparent in a vast number of pictorial books published since.


  • The National Art Gallery exhibits its first solo show by a New Zealand photographer, Peter Black’s Fifty photographs. PhotoForum, which has previously published the portfolio in its magazine, republishes the work as a separate catalogue.


  • Glenn Busch publishes Working men in association with the National Art Gallery. Combining photography and sociology, its strong portraits are accompanied by text culled from extensive interviews with the men shown.
  • David Cook starts a project documenting Waikato’s Rotowaro township and coalmine. The project culminates with the 2006 publication of Lake of coal: the disappearance of a mining town.


NZ Journal of Photography
  • Minolta introduces the world’s first truly practical autofocus SLR system. This features other technological advances common in modern cameras.
  • The New Zealand Centre for Photography is established by Brain Brake, Matheson Beaumont and Brian Enting. Its mission is to promote photography within New Zealand, to help raise the standard of local work, and to be an umbrella organisation for camera users. In 1987 the NZCP starts publishing a newsletter, which is renamed the New Zealand Journal of Photography (NZJP) in 1992.


  • The graphics editing programme Adobe Photoshop is released.
  • Communicate New Zealand (formerly the National Publicity Studio) and the National Film Unit are sold to private companies.


  • The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS) is introduced. The DCS-100 – the first digital SLR – is a Nikon F3 camera equipped by Kodak with a 1.3-megapixel sensor.


  • Australian-born, Auckland-based photographer Anne Geddes published her first calendar of stylised depictions of babies and children. In 1996 she published her first book, Down in the Garden, going on to create an instantly recognisable style alongside a hugely successful global publishing empire producing books, calendars, cards, and stationary, later diversifying into other merchandise. After building her international reputation from a small studio in Auckland, Geddes moved back to Australia in the mid-2000s.


    • A retrospective of work by the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe shows at City Gallery Wellington. The sexual content of some images causes controversy, but the show is a blockbuster.
Second Nature cover
  • Peter Peryer exhibits a survey show, Second nature, at Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany with funding from the New Zealand government. The New Zealand Meat Board complains to the Minister of Agriculture – who in turn protests to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs – about the use of the photo ‘Dead Steer (Waikato)’ on promotional material, arguing that this will have a detrimental effect on sales of New Zealand meat. The show is accompanied by an extensive catalogue and later tours New Zealand.


  • Wellington’s FotoFest, a city-wide celebration of photography, includes exhibitions, workshops and seminars featuring local, national and international photographers.
  • Photospace Gallery opens in Wellington. Run by James Gilberd, this is now the longest running photographic gallery in New Zealand. Its first exhibition is Kerry-Ann Boyle’s The mortal dress.


  • In Japan, Sharp releases the first cellular phone with a built-in camera (0.1 megapixels).


  • McNamara Gallery Photography opens in Whanganui. Its first exhibition is a reshowing of Peter Black’s 1995 series Moving pictures, originally published in Sport 15.


  • Image hosting website Photobucket is founded. By 2011 it had 100 million users and more than eight billion uploads, making it the world’s largest such website. Flickr, a similar online service, is launched in 2004 and by 2010 is hosting over 5 billion images.


  • The first Auckland Festival of Photography is held. The annual event has continued to grow in stature and status.


  • Edith Amituanai is named as the inaugural winner of the Marti Friedlander Photography Award. The award is made biennially; John Miller and Mark Adams share it in 2009.


  • The New Zealand Centre for Photography ceases activity without having fully achieved its initial aims. The Centre has also failed to find a permanent home, a partnership with the New Zealand Portrait Gallery having fallen through because of the NZCP’s financial problems. The NZJP is renamed Photomedia, but only one issue appears before the Centre folds.


Brian Brake and camera
  • Te Papa shows a Brian Brake retrospective and publishes Brian Brake: lens on the world, 22 years after Brake’s death and 10 years after being gifted Brake’s archive and starting the process of digitising more than 100,000 of his photographs.

The information in this timeline is as accurate as we have been able to make it. If you have corrections or feel that an important event has been overlooked, please contact us at [email protected]

How to cite this page

Photography timeline, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated