Friday 19 June 2009

The Wonderland Album – New Zealand Part 2

I searched Google for “Wonderland” and “New Zealand” and came up with 889,000 references. There is Boogie Wonderland, Geothermal Wonderland and even Pets Wonderland. Still, Wonderland is not a term that has retained its currency in New Zealand. Even though it is a terrific title for this 19th century photograph album.

Otira Gorge, West Coast Road (1999/18/74) is a spectacularly cold and wintertime view of one of the most accessible alpine passes in the South Island. Alfred Burton’s assistant looks very game wearing his shirtsleeves in such icy weather. Without his roadside presence it would be much harder to see the lofty scale of the distant mountains.

I reckon Burton's photograph of The Blue Bath, Rotorua (1999/18/150) is surreal and hilarious at the same moment. This pool looks so large but it is shown totally empty of bathers. Frequently, such late 19th century images of public pools included bathing figures - and they were always male - as a means of indicating the pool's scale. I like the abstraction of the composition and I reckon that the famous modernist architectural photographer Julius Shulman would be jealous of this shot!

Interior of crater, after eruption June 10 1886 (1999/18/177) is a brutally 'explosive' image. No one who has visited the top of the crater of Mount Tarawera ever fails to feel overwhelmed by how extensive the 1886 eruption was. I went there once in winter and it was like visiting the after-effects of a cataclysm By including the two ‘spectator’ figures, Burton affirms the old art tradition of having witnesses podering a sublime vista. Who would call the place they are looking at 'Wonderland'?

Image credits:

The Wonderland Album – New Zealand circa 1898-1899
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
The Ilene and Laurence Dakin Bequest, purchased 1999


bathmate said...

This is wonderful posting. Thank you.


Ron Brownson said...

We have had many comments from visitors about The Wonderland Album. I am thrilled that it has been one of our most popular exhibits of 19th century photography. We need to see more of this material.
Dr Eric McCormick was one of the first local scholars to realise that such photography as that created by the Burton Brothers has much to show us about our past. I will write about this soon.