sneak peek

The exhibition images

Here is a first look at five photographs to illustrate the range of subject matter and technical approach in this exhibition of 1940s and 1950s glass plate photography.

Aecidium otagense on Clematis indivisa, circa 1950s
Photographer: E. B. L.
Scientist: Unknown

Gelatin glass negative, half plate

This Clematis plant is infected with a rare rust fungus plant disease called Aecidium otagense, now known as Puccinia otagensis. Plant & Food Research has more recent colour digital photographs of this subject, but few images are as captivating or reptile-like as this.

This deformity occurs when the climber becomes infected by the airborne disease, resulting in swollen areas on the vine, with distinctive twists and eruptions of yellowish spores.

Although the vine appears to be placed against a seamless white background, the science photographer possibly photographed this unique specimen in natural light outdoors. He applied a special technique, much like editing with Adobe Photoshop now, to conceal parts of the photograph around the subject by carefully hand-masking the original negative plate with a brush and Kodak opaque red paint. Several small positive prints were made as permanent records.

Untitled, circa 1940s - 1950s
Photographer: Unknown
Scientist: Unknown
Gelatin glass negative, whole plate

Wetapunga (Deinacrida heteracantha) are nocturnal and wingless insects, endemic to New Zealand. This photograph shows a preserved dry specimen, judging by its flat legs, wavy antennae and a pin hole in the upper body. The species is one of the largest insects in the world (up to 7 cm long and weighing 70 g). It had once been wide spread in the Northland region but it is now extinct on the mainland. Today the wetapunga giant weta is confined to Little Barrier Island.

This close-up composition, with the camera set directly above this female weta and the main light set from the right side, has resulted in this remarkable, dramatic photograph. It documents the physical characteristics of this fascinating and elusive creature. The original photographic plate is one of the few 6.5" x 8.5" whole-plate negatives discovered. The broken top-left corner shows the fragile and delicate nature of the material.

Peach - climatic effect on pits, 1953 
Photographer: Jan W. Endt
Scientist: B Farmer
Gelatin glass negative, quarter plate

DSIR scientists have been studying climatic effects on plants long before the term climate change became mainstream. This photograph documents a study on how the different climate in seven districts, from Auckland to Roxburgh, affected the physiology of peach pits in the autumn of 1953. Each row shows pits from one location. This study was conducted by fruit scientist B. Farmer, who often worked out in the field at research orchards from his base at the Mt Albert site.  

Photographer Jan W. Endt delicately laid out peach pits on a glass sheet rather than a sheet of paper, to avoid casting harsh shallows on the background. Laying out round objects neatly can be challenging, as they tend to roll around on a smooth surface. Endt probably used some sort of residue-free adhesive to keep these pits in place. The top-down view is a great way to showcase the visual differences of these pits, allowing scientists to compare and contrast their shapes, sizes and other traits.

Untitled, circa 1950s 
Photographer: Unknown
Scientist: Unknown

Gelatin glass negative, half plate

Science photography requires patience, as it can be a slow and a painstaking process, and subjects can be very faint and hard to see with the naked eye. There is little known about this photograph, as no filing documentation comes with the glass plate.

What is certain is that this science photographer was given a rather technically challenging task by an entomologist, to capture a miniscule cluster of insect eggs on an uneven leaf surface. The depth of field is limited but the textural detail of the insect eggs is well focused in the centre of the frame. This photograph was possibly taken using a large bellow system to allow maximum magnification of these tiny eggs.

Neill picking tin, circa 1940s - 1950s
Photographer: H. D.
Scientist: Unknown
Gelatin glass negative, half plate

Recording scientific experiments, social events, social gatherings and everyday activities has been a big part of a photographer's role at DSIR then and at Plant & Food Research now. This photograph is a beautiful record of its time and captures the Kiwi ingenuity for which New Zealanders pride themselves.

The humble Vacuum Oil Company tin was repurposed into a picking tin held by a leather shoulder strap and worn by a gentleman in a waistcoat and trousers - very different from what field workers wear today. This is a well-considered and visually pleasing photograph, emphasising the inherent beauty of the picking tin and the versatility of this "upcycled" industrial waste.

These black and white photographs are printed on 310 gsm Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss, a type of traditional fibre-base photographic paper. The photograph’s size is 290 mm x 251 mm, window-mounted in conservation double thick mat card. All artworks are framed in New Zealand native timber rimu wood and protected by conservation-clear UV glass.

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