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A severe blow

Monday 8 July 2013

A while ago in Dunedin I visited the Otago Settlers Museum, an institution founded in 1898, the 50th anniversary of the first Scot­tish settlement of Otago. In the beginning the museum fo­cused on the earliest European arrivals​—​from 1848 until 1861 when the gold rush started. The focus gradually wid­­ened to ac­knowl­edge more recent arrivals and, eventually, the Māori people who had been there all along. In 2012 the museum was renamed Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Toitū is the Māori name of a stream that once flowed near the site, and the word carries other con­no­ta­tions, as the museum website explains.

In the museum is an ‘early colonists’ gallery, purpose-built in the early 1900s. In this large square room, lit by lantern windows at the top of the hipped ceiling, there are hundreds of framed pho­to­graphs stacked six rows high. It’s very impressive, and gives the impression that anybody who can’t point to an ancestor on the wall is a newcomer.

I was reminded of my visit by the Early New Zealand pho­tog­ra­phers blog, which quoted this newspaper article:

The war and the rising value of glass has combined to ad­min­is­ter a severe blow to the Canterbury Early Colonists Committee. The gallery of photographs of old colonists in the Museum is feeling the effects of time, and many of the portraits are fading. The idea struck a member of the com­mit­tee that it would be a good scheme to get fresh copies made of some, or all, of the portraits, and he made en­quir­ies from the Christchurch photographer who had the neg­a­tives to see what could be done in the matter. He was amazed to learn that, owing to the value of glass. Sydney agents had been round to most of the photographers in Christchurch and bought up old negatives at 3d a dozen, and about 300 portraits of the old Canterbury identities were among the negatives secured.

[‘General News’, The Press (Christchurch newspaper), 22 July 1916.]

It’s a terrible warning about who you can trust to look after your most precious stuff. And in this time of digital storage it’s a warning about entrusting anything to the cloud.

filed under Collecting + Photography + Technology

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