Re-photographing glass plate negatives for a new angle on early 20th century New Zealand

The above glass plates are in fact from Manchester Central Library rather than NLNZ

There was a time when I would read about some cool new project on the National Library of New Zealand’s website and get stupidly excited, frothing at the mouth on my blog at how cool it is, and how much they as an institution seem to get right with stuff like this.

That time is still now. I still do that. Here is another one.


With the blog post Re-visioning Joseph Divis and Waiuta from Caroline McQuarrie, we have a really interesting take on breathing new life into early photographic depictions of life in Aotearoa New Zealand.

There is an inherent difficulty in representing analogue photography in the digital space, particularly when the object itself is not merely a flat, paper-based print but is rather an object in and of itself.

Photographing a 2D object top-down with good, even, lighting is one solution for simpler media. But even then decisions have to be made about how to light the object, and what angle to shoot at.

If the object itself is more elaborate, like a Daguerreotype housed in a folding frame, or a glass transparency, then it all gets a lot more complicated.

How to light it? How to even support it, allowing for light to pass through the object so the subject can be seen? Which way to shoot it? Reversed, so that the image itself (impregnated onto one side of the glass) is the most detailed part, the image later being digitally reversed?

But then what if you take this process – photographing an object which is itself photographic – and abstract it one level further? Rather than merely trying to digitise the flat image the object represents, why not expand on that and use photographic techniques to present the image in an entirely new way?

And that is what McQuarrie has done here: new takes on old images, which highlight – thanks to the inherent quality and detail of the original photographs themselves – tiny elements or areas present in the scene itself. It’s brilliant. It’s a sort of uncanny ’tilt shift’ effect which brings into focus just one section of the larger image.

McQuarrie’s wider project into the area’s history is equally interesting, and as usual with the NLNZ blog, I am just so glad they have brought it to my attention.

(Do not misunderstand me: I feel that the priority when digitising objects like this in the first instance is a good representation of the image contained within – that is arguably the most important ‘message’ to capture. But I imagine that this is the same goal of world-class institutions like the National Library of New Zealand as well! These sorts of projects are the next tier up – a meta-project which breathes new life into an existing collection.)

Footnote: This all reminds me that I believe I once had a short-lived series on Tumblr posting old photos that had been scanned at high resolution – from the likes of the National Library of New Zealand or the Library of Congress (via Shorpy) – and highlighting tiny details contained within those photos that were visible thanks to the high res nature of both the digital scans and the underlying quality of the image itself.

New Photography page on my website

I’ve updated this website a little bit, and added (reinstated, actually) a ‘portfolio’ element to display some photographs.

I’ve stuck to albums/sets as these are the most sensible way of displaying them, and I’ve added a simple but neat little lightbox plugin to make it a bit nicer to look at. (This looks pretty good on desktop, but on a mobile device the lightbox isn’t so well-suited. I will need to see if I can get it to play nicer on mobile, or simply put up with it because mobile devices aren’t the best for browsing photographic galleries outside of purpose built apps like Instagram, anyway.)

This is what it looks like at the moment: a selection of recent-ish galleries, including the very recent latest set of photographs taken just last week on my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, which I love using, and on Ilford XP2, which I also love using. (It’s a black and white film, but it is developed using the colour C41 process, which makes things a bit easier and more economical for developing. It’s got great contrast, seems pretty versatile and, paired with the Minolta’s sharp 45mm f1.8 lens, produces really great-looking black and white images.)

I’ve added a few others – mostly trips away – partly because I gravitate towards these at the moment, in times of lockdown. In fact, four of the currently featured albums have also been made into photobooks, so they immediately seem like obvious choices for presenting here.

This is also, hopefully, an alternative (whether in place of, or alongside) to Flickr. I use Flickr still, and I browse Flickr daily. I follow loads of folks on there, and still vastly prefer it to Instagram in terms of delving into someone’s archive, or finding photographs of particular things, place, or taken on particular equipment.

I’ve been posting to Flickr in fits and starts – mostly because I have let my subscription lapse, and I am now limited to 1,000 uploads. I took the difficult decision to remove the vast majority of photographs I’ve had on Flickr, starting in 2005, as I am now more interested in posting new, fewer shots, than having vast archives online which are less relevant or representative of me now.

It was a difficult decision to do that, and I tried to preserve images or albums which have become sort of ‘classics’ of Flickr, by virtue of being discovered by enough people, or featured somewhere. But mostly I stripped away what was largely a sort of should-be-private photographic archive which felt anachronistic in 2020. What’s left is a collection of fewer images, but still quite a representative selection going back a decade or so. And I am keen to continue adding to it, including the new Minolta film, which is already online here via my new photography page.

I have some wider thoughts on Flickr, but I wanted to get this update up, and it made sense to talk a little bit about Flickr here now.

I hope the new galleries look okay at your end – feel free to offer me some advice if they could be improved. And I’ll continue to add to them in the near future.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7s – Ilford XP2 Super 400

Blurb photobooks

I’ve been so pleased with the quality of Blurb‘s book printing service over the years.

The first edition of my book on Charles Wade was done by Blurb, and I’ve made a few photo books with them now. It helps that I use Lightroom and there’s a fantastic built-in book assembly tool, but Blurb’s free Bookwright software is also excellent for laying out an entire book. There’s also templates for InDesign, if you dabble in that.

The latest book I’ve made is of photos taken this past summer cycling across northern France with Megan. We had a blast and would easily do the same kind of trip again.

Making such a hefty book (172 pages and hardcover imagewrap in this instance) was especially satisfying as it makes for such a large object. And the plain cover means the book can stand up on its own, acting as a kind of display item in its own right. It’s great.

I should mention here that the France photobook arrived and had a couple of minor printing flaws. Nothing bad at all, really, but they were there if you looked for them. I sent Blurb a quick note and some example pictures to show what had happened, and within hours they had begun processing a brand new book to be sent as soon as possible. Naturally, when the replacement arrived, it was flawless. And we were allowed to keep the original, which means we’re able to keep one basically perfect version for pawing through and showing off, and give the neat copy as a gift.

The reprint process was quick and painless and really showed that their customer service is responsive and helpful. I’ve seen this level of service from Blurb before when I’ve had queries about publishing books through Blurb, and various other things I’ve needed to ask in the past. It’s reassuring to know the after-sale service is just as good.

I’m looking forward to making a magazine or two shortly, thanks to Dan Milnor’s encouragement. Possibly Rothenburg or Toulouse, or maybe that collection of live music photos I’ve been meaning to make for years now…

Here’s a taste of the most recent photobook project:

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Shooting film with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

A few years ago, when hunting high and low for a specific camera, I picked up a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.

Here it is:

It wasn’t the Ansco Autoset I was looking for – that’s a long story for another day, but this is in fact a slightly later evolution of that camera, and much more user friendly.

It’s a lovely 35mm film camera produced in Japan in 1966, with a few really nice features. It’s not the most attractive camera, though it isn’t unattractive, and it’s a touch on the heavy/boxy side. But as someone who has shot several films with a Zenit E, this is a wee bit lighter.

While clearing out my storage locker recently I came across the little Minolta, all tucked away in its hard-wearing leather case. Strange, I thought, as I got rid of most of my film cameras a few years ago. But I couldn’t resist taking it out for a spin last weekend. It already had film in, with 3-4 shots taken, so I took it along for a day-trip to St Albans.

One thing that’s great on this camera is the battery-powered light metering which actually enables it to be run fully automatic – save for focusing. I ran fully automatic for all these shots. Luckily, the focus system is quite nice, too. Rather than the split-circle style found in some cameras, this one uses a small smudgy area in the middle of the viewfinder, through which one sees two images. Align the two overlaid bits of the image (ideally on an edge, or some other contrasting feature), and that is what will be in focus.

It turned out really well – a mixture of shots indoors and out, from the glaring sunshine of that sunny bank holiday we had, to the dark crevices of a thousand-year-old cathedral. Another neat feature is how quiet the shutter is. I’m more used to the hefty CLUNK of an SLR, and this is more of a quick click.

The below were taken on bog-standard Pound shop Kodak 200 film (most likely approximately six years old, too). I’ll be picking up some new film for the Minolta, as I really enjoyed using it.

Paintings of Amersham by Charles Paget Wade

When I was starting to get deeper into my research of Charles Paget Wade for my book on his life at Hampstead Garden Suburb, I quickly realised one thing: Wade didn’t keep a diary. Not everyone does. But it’s always a disappointment – a tiny one, anyway – to find out that someone I’m researching didn’t keep a diary.

With a diary to use in collaboration with other forms of biographical research, so much more can be gleaned about a person. Without a diary, letters often fill in the gaps, and this is true for Wade, and it’s a big part of why I went to Gloucester Archives (although the majority of the holdings are letters to Wade, not from him).

Wade did write memoirs in later life, which have been hugely helpful in discovering more about the enigmatic man himself. But retrospective recollections can often be misleading, so first-hand documents are always helpful. With Wade, we have a number of these, including receipts for a great many of the shopping trips he went on, picking up antiques around the country. Using these, I’ve been able to piece together journeys and timelines.

But perhaps the most helpful of these records have been Wade’s own drawings, paintings and illustrations. As a draughtsman, Wade very diligently noted the date on his work, usually with the year, and quite often with the date or even the location. Naturally some were done on-site and others later, from memory. But these records go a long way to filling in other blanks in his movements.

Wade’s architectural work was often exquisitely detailed, while his illustrations – a number of which were used for a children’s novel – are more artful and fantastical. Alongside these he also did paintings – some of real locations, and others of imaginary worlds.

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Thanks to the National Trust’s staggering Collections database I was thrilled to discover that Wade had painted several scenes at the south Buckinghamshire market town of Amersham – my home town.

Whilst living at Hampstead Garden Suburb (1907-1919), Wade went on a number of travels and tours around England, visiting quaint villages, churches and pubs, as much to trawl the antiques shops as to use the vernacular architecture as inspiration for his own works, both built and imagined.

At Amersham, Wade’s eye was clearly drawn to the 17th century town hall as well as the Crown hotel opposite, one of a number of historic coaching inns that line the high street.

Having discovered that Wade had painted some scenes centring on these buildings, I was pleased to have the opportunity this weekend to try and photograph them from roughly the same perspective. Thankfully, Amersham’s old town has changed very little since Wade visited in 1907-8 and, despite my rough positioning, it’s not hard to see the same scenes that Wade found compelling enough to paint.

The paintings

The Crown

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Crown Inn, Amersham. August 15 1909. With TA Lloyd
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Rear of The Crown Inn, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

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Market Hall, Amersham. October 5 Sunday 1908 with A H Mottram
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Church Street

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Aug 15.09, Amersham with T.A.L [T. A. Lloyd]
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall and The Crown from Church Street, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

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The Little Sweet Shop, C Wade Inv August 1909
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
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Market Hall water pump, High Street, Amersham, 19 August 2017