10 Dec 2013

Vintage Pacific images emerge

5:49 pm on 10 December 2013

A number of historical images taken of the Pacific in the 1940s and 50s have come out of obscurity, many to be seen by the public for the first time.

The Navy Museum in Auckland is sorting through the collection of Auckland photographer Tudor Collins, who went on several Navy trips to the Pacific Islands during the 1940's and 50s.

Up until recently, Tudor Collins' boxes of glass plate negatives had sat in storage in a garage for over 40 years.

The Navy Museum's photographic archivist, Paul Restall, says he has been working through the material and describes to Leilani Momoisea some of the images that have been found.

PAUL RESTALL: There's a lot of welcoming ceremonies that individual Pacific islands did when the captain and the officers, or the governor general, arrived often in the ship's boat, but sometimes in outrigger canoes. And the governor general was often carried ashore on a little platform. And there's traditional costume, traditional dance, singing, feasts, sports and horseriding. There's a young chap showing how to climb a coconut tree with all of the ship's officers below looking on. There's demonstrations of kava making and there's a few family shots of children and groups around a village, usually with a navy officer or two in the image. But they are just absolutely beautiful images, and they've literally come out of obscurity because of their 40 or 50 years of just being hidden away in dusty boxes in the garage. So they're a remarkable discovery.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: A nice little window into the past, I suppose.

PR: It is totally. It's like unfolding the pages from the past, because when we open a box of glass plates we really have no idea at all what we're going to find. And out come these amazing images. It's almost like the people coming to life through these dusty old glass plates. It's a fantastic process. I'm loving it.

LM: So no documentation on any of these photos, so you would be needing help from people in the Pacific, perhaps, to recognise some of these places or people?

PR: Absolutely. It would be fantastic to get that, because on the boxes of the glass plates may be just written one word - 'Suva' or something - but that's only occasional. We also think there's been quite a bit of mix-up so we can't actually trust that information. But it may be recognisable by the topography, the lagoons and the mountains and the buildings and the background and the particular housing styles. Also if people can recognise... I guess it's a long shot, but if people can recognise some of the people in the photographs it would be fantastic to reunite those images with the people that are there. But it was back in the late '40s and early '50s so they'd be pretty old by now.

The Navy Museum's photographic archivist, Paul Restall. The images can be found at the Navy Museum blog site: http://www.navymuseum.co.nz/blog/