The Burton Brothers studio : commerce in photography and the marketing of New Zealand, 1866-1898
Whybrew, Christine M.
The Burton Brothers studio of Dunedin, the most renowned ofNew Zealand's colonial photographers, was among the first to present photographs of colonial New Zealand to international audiences. From 1866 to 1898 this studio produced a stock of photographic images that recorded the industrial, social and political progress of the colony. Burton Brothers photographs were produced in series and included topographical views of locations, such as Milford Sound and the King Country, or were targeted to specific projects or events, such as the eruption of Mount Tarawera and the government survey of the Sutherland Falls. Alfred Henry Burton, the studio's director, accompanied the Union Steam Ship Company's first tourist excursion to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and photographs from this series and those of King Country Maori are valued as ethnographic records of indigenous peoples. Now prized as documentary artefacts in institutional collections, the "truth" value of these photographs is compromised by their production as marketable commodities. By examining the intended purpose that informed the creation and distribution of these photographs, this thesis disrupts conventional interpretations of Burton Brothers photographs as historical records. This thesis examines photographs as physical objects, prioritising the material properties of the photograph over image content. This methodology is informed and guided by the close and systematic study of Burton Brothers photographs in their original formats, including albumen prints, cartes de visite, stereographs, lantern slides, albums and the studio's original wet collodion and gelatin dry plate negatives. All prints released by the studio were inscribed with the firm's trademark (brand), negative number and a descriptive caption. Each series of photographs was promoted by a non-illustrated catalogue, containing an excerpt from the photographer's diary or other written narrative that operated as contextual description for the photographs. These textual elements function to direct interpretation in accordance with the studio's commercial agenda and in alignment with contemporary social and political ideologies. The impression of New Zealand circulated by Burton Brothers photographs was derived more from the text accompanying and overlaying these photographic products than the image content. This "textual overlay" allows insight into the studio's purpose m producing, releasing and marketing photographic products. Through this, the context of production is analysed and Burton Brothers photographs are examined as products of commercial endeavour, accessing a greater understanding of the commercial photography trade in nineteenth century New Zealand.
Advisor: Wolf, Erika; Wanhalla, Angela
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Art history
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis