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Historic New Zealand Portrait

Historic New Zealand Portrait

Photography On Display At Te Papa

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.

Striking Poses: New Zealand Portrait Photography runs in The Boulevard East, Level 5, from 12 March until October 2003. An event programme supported by the exhibition's overall sponsor, Imagelab, will give visitors a chance to have their own 'studio portrait' taken, in a Victorian style over Queen's Birthday weekend. Admission to the exhibition is free.

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