Women Album Makers from the Canterbury Region of New Zealand, 1890-1910, and Their Photographic Practices
This thesis examines the photograph albums created by fifteen women born during the reign of Queen Victoria living in the Canterbury region of New Zealand between the years 1890-1910. It will investigate how it was that these women, often working in close association with other members of their family, became involved in photography as an amateur recreational pastime. It will pursue this investigation within the conceptual and structural framework in which these women’s photographs were produced, collected or processed, and organized into albums, arguing that the making of such albums was as much a cultural and social practice as a representational one. Photograph albums are often considered to be generic objects. However this study will treat albums as distinctive and unique documents, comparable to other more-widely consulted primary sources such as letters and diaries. In particular, it will explore the capacity of the album to be a pictorial artefact that provides its own conditions for viewing images over time and space and contribute to a growing body of literature that insists that the photograph album is an important object of study within social history, and indeed within the history of photography in general. In drawing attention to the album making as a gendered pastime I am acknowledging the significance of this activity for women from within the upper and middle classes as a significant aspect of feminine cultural production at this period in our colonial history. As cameras became easier to operate towards the end of the nineteenth century these improvements saw women begin to take their own photographs, and also to print and distribute them within their extended families and beyond. This reflects the extent to which the practices of photography and album-making had become integrated practices by this date. Thus, the role of the album compiler working in the domestic sphere was effectively transformed from a passive consumer (collecting photographs) into an active producer of photographs. However, the extent to which the practice of photography was undertaken by women within colonial New Zealand is only now beginning to be realized. To date, the published evidence for this has been slight. This thesis endeavours to shed light on the contribution of these women working within the domestic sphere, but also those of their number who subsequently ventured to use this knowledge outside this limited sphere, and on their visual legacy at this formative period in New Zealand’s history.