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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

A Different Light: First Photographs of Aotearoa, edited by Catherine Hammond and Shaun Higgins



A Different Light brings together the photograph collections of three major research libraries—Auckland War Memorial Museum, Alexander Turnbull Library, and Hocken Collections—in a beautifully presented hardback book.


More than just a collection of early images, this insightful book examines questions such as: Were the first photographs a good likeness? What stories do they reveal of New Zealand's changing landscape? How did the portraits reveal Māori and Pakeha to themselves and each other?


You could spend hours poring over the photographs and accompanying text in this important book and still find new things to discover. There are wonderfully formal photos of new settlers dressed in their best clothes and gazing directly at the camera, with both professionals and amateurs experimenting with this new technology. Many of the images are posed in studios, but there are less formal photographs of people picnicking or riding bicycles. There are images of the famous pink terraces before they were lost to the world. There is an entire chapter devoted to striking images of Māori taken in 1862 in what became known as the ‘Urquhart Album.’


A Different Light is endlessly fascinating, with its unique imagery and text that gives us a glimpse into a different time in Aotearoa’s early history. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and this book proves this by bringing so many small details to life. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in early photography, New Zealand’s history, and also anyone interested in people’s lives from bygone eras.


This was a photography so different from today. ‘Studio portraits weren’t cheap, and people hadn’t figured out which was their good side yet. There was little remedy if you didn’t like the result.’


Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Auckland University Press

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