Maori woman, Rotorua, New Zealand

Arthur James Iles1900 - 1920

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

This photograph depicts an unidentified young Maori woman of unknown tribal affiliation. It was taken by the New Zealand photographer Arthur James Iles in Rotorua in the early 20th century. It is one of a series of twenty studio portraits of Maori taken by Iles in Museum Victoria's collections. A professional photographer active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Iles photographed a range of subjects including people, landscapes, historical and tourist sites as well as indigenous flora and fauna. Iles's specialisation was portraiture, particularly of the Maori population. Maori life had been a common subject among photographers since the 1850s. Popular with the non-Indigenous population, several categories of Maori pictures dominated the market. These included nostalgic depictions of 'beauties' and 'noble warriors' and the re-enactment of pre-contact life. The emergence of postcards around the beginning of the 20th century resulted in a resurgence in the production of photographs of Maori.

A business man, Iles recognised this renewed interest in Maori culture. He drew on established subjects, photographing senior men and young women. Iles's efforts to attract Maori to his studios were aided by two factors. Firstly his association with Captain Gilbert Mair, a highly regarded captain of Maori troops loyal to the colonial government, facilitated visits by Maori community. Secondly, his marriage to Rebecca Elsie Utuatonga, a Maori woman, is likely to have assisted him to encourage young women to be photographed.

In this photograph, the woman is wearing a kahu huruhuru [feather cloak], a style of kakahu [Maori cloak]. Feather cloaks became popular in the latter half of the 19th century. During this period weavers experimented with new materials such as the feathers of non-indigenous species. For example, this cloak incorporates the feathers of the guineafowl (Numida meleagris), an introduced bird common in New Zealand.


  • Title: Maori woman, Rotorua, New Zealand
  • Creator Lifespan: 1870 - 1943
  • Creator Nationality: New Zealander
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Rotorua, New Zealand
  • Creator Birth Place: Oamaru, New Zealand
  • Date Created: 1900 - 1920
  • Physical Dimensions: w139 x h197 mm
  • Type: Photograph
  • Rights: Copyright expired. Source: Museum Victoria. Indigenous or Cultural Rights Apply, Copyright expired: Source: Museum Victoria / Photographer: Arthur James Iles. Indigenous or Cultural Rights apply
  • External Link: Museum Victoria Collections
  • Medium: Albumen print
  • Subject: Indigenous peoples; studio photography
  • Photographer: Arthur James Iles
  • Artist Information: Arthur James Iles was a professional photographer. Active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New Zealand, Iles photographed a range of subjects including people, landscapes, historical and tourist sites as well as indigenous flora and fauna. His specialisation was portraiture, particularly of the Maori population. Iles was born in Oamaru in New Zealand's South Island in 1870. Iles was the son of photographer James and hairdresser Louisa Iles. This early association with photography no doubt influenced him to establish his own studio in Lawrence, Central Otago in 1891 at just 21 years of age. Throughout his career he relocated several times working in Thames, Auckland and Rotorua as well as in Sydney, Australia at the Falk Studios. He married Maori woman, Rebecca Elsie Utuatonga on 27 August 1895 with whom he had five children. They divorced in 1932 and Iles married Ada Hunt. Iles died on 9 April 1943.

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps