This essay originally appeared in New Zealand Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2018).
During early 1893 Burton Brothers photographer George Moodie spent seven weeks photographing in the Southern Alps. He left Dunedin with his ‘mind made up to get a really good set of alpine photos pictorial and otherwise, by taking the camera to the most difficult and interesting places where camera [sic] had never before been placed’.1 The main audience for this series of photographs was alpine climbers.
Moodie’s trip was the most ambitious attempt to photograph in the Southern Alps since that of Edward Percival Sealy, who had accompanied geologist and explorer Julius von Haast into the area in 1869. Moodie was probably inspired by an article published in The New Zealand Alpine Journal in 1892, in which alpine explorer and photographer Arthur Harper claimed that alpine photography, on the level of that occurring in Switzerland, could now be taking place in New Zealand with the arrival of a new technical innovation — the gelatin dry-plate negative.
Besides their visual appeal, Moodie’s alpine photographs are a triumph of physical endurance and simple technology. The lens in Moodie’s camera had a perspective similar to that of the human eye, which meant he needed to climb in order to get in close to his subject. On the Tasman Glacier, Moodie remedied the problem of too much glare from the ice by placing coats on the ground at the base of the camera. He exposed one hundred and seventy-six negatives during the trip, and he employed two men to help him carry the heavy 8 x 10-inch glass plates along with their provisions. To economise on weight, the men slept together and used their coats and the camera cloth as blankets. Moodie’s photographs were exhibited later in 1893 as part of the New Zealand Alpine Club’s annual winter exhibition in Christchurch, and it was noted in the club’s journal that his images of ‘Mount Sefton, the Hochstetter ice-fall, and the peaks at the head of the Tasman Glacier would be hard to surpass’.2 The Christchurch Press also reviewed the exhibition and reported that ‘such exhibitions greatly help to interest people in the work of the Club, besides opening their eyes to the wonderful alpine scenery of New Zealand’.3
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).
1. George Moodie, ‘Seven weeks with the camera among the Glaciers of Mt. Cook’, The New Zealand Alpine Journal, vol. 1, November 1893, pp. 196–97.2. ‘Winter exhibition of photographs’, in ibid., p. 236.3. Cited in ibid.