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Find Family And Friends In Museum Photography Collection

Cantabrians with an interest in family history are being called on to help Canterbury Museum during the lockdown.

The Museum wants to identify people and places in thousands of photographs taken by New Zealand’s longest-running photography studio, Standish and Preece.

A project to digitise and catalogue the images has been underway since 2019. The first batch of about 32,000 photos has just been uploaded to the Collections Online area of the Museum’s website. Here people can help by adding their own knowledge about people and places.

Frank Standish and Alfred Preece founded the studio in Christchurch in 1885. While their partnership only lasted 5 years, the business operated until 2011, closing down after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Standish and Preece photographers captured a multitude of faces and the social history of Christchurch for more than 126 years. Many of the photographs are individual or family portraits but they also include school groups, sports teams, weddings and corporate events.

Fashion trends, changing demographics and even the growth and development of Christchurch’s architectural heritage can be seen across the decades. There are racy images (which may not make it online), cute images and the downright weird.

Standish and Preece donated their photographic negatives dating up to the 1960s – around 36,000 photos – to the Museum in 1992. Another 39,000 photographs dating from 1960 until the studio’s closure in 2011 were donated to the Museum in 2017 by John Hunter, the last owner of the business.

Three full-time staff members began scanning and cataloguing the negatives in 2019. The three-year project has been funded by the Lottery Grants Board and from a bequest by former Honorary Museum Curator, Rose Reynolds.

The collection of 75,000 images will be uploaded to Collections Online in batches every few months.

Many of the photos came with a record of the name of the group, organisation or family, but not the names of the individuals in the image. The Museum hopes the public will be able to supply more details.

Dan Stirland, Curator Special Projects who is managing the project, says any extra information will make the collection much more useful in future.

“We’d really like people to browse through the images, hopefully see some faces they recognise and supply the Museum with names and stories via the Collections Online comments box,” he says.

“In the future, this information could be used to help people find photos of their relatives and be useful to family and social history researchers.”

Dr Jill Haley, Curator Human History, says the collection is a window into life in Canterbury through the decades. “You can see fashion trends develop, demographics change and even the growth and development of Christchurch itself.

“There are some quirky images in the collection as well, like the portraits of people’s pets. We’d love to know more about any and all of them – even the names of the pets!”

The Standish and Preece collection can be viewed online here.

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