Striking Poses: New Zealand Portrait Photography is an exhibition
of 160 studio portraits from New Zealand's past, featuring Mäori and
Europeans from the 1850s through to the 1970s. Many of these photographs
have never been displayed publicly before. The exhibition includes the earliest types of photographs such as
daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and cartes de visite. Sitters in these look
serious, stiff, and formal - not surprising given exposure times of several
seconds and the Victorian disapproval of informality and frivolity.
The invention of the snapshot around 1900 gave people the option of taking
their own portraits, but this did not replace the desire to visit the
professional. The exhibition shows that while twentieth-century styles of
portrait photography become a little more relaxed, the artifice of the
studio setting and the painfully self-conscious experience of posing is
written clearly on the faces of sitters.
Not all the photographs in Striking Poses were commissioned by the sitter.
Nineteenth century photographers often induced Mäori to pose and then
mass-produced images of the sitters for sale. There was a strong European
curiosity about this 'other culture' and many such images ended up in
museums like Te Papa as part of ethnographic collections.
A number of the sitters are unknown. Te Papa hopes that through this
exhibition members of the public may assist with the identification process
through their own family records and memories.
Photographic techniques became more sophisticated in the twentieth century.
The exhibition features work by photographers such as Spencer Digby and Ron
Woolf who used artificial lighting to create dramatic or glamorous effects.
Unknown Woman, about 1870,
by American Photographic Company, Auckland.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa