Not just aerial photographs

As the name suggests, Whites Aviation is famous for its aerial photographs of towns and landmarks around New Zealand. But surprisingly, almost a third of the images in the collection are not taken from the air but from the ground.

Whites Aviation was founded by Leo Lemuel White, who was born in Auckland in 1906.

The earliest photographs that we have in this collection give an indication of White’s early interest in flying. They include a series showing a DH9 aircraft landed at the foot of One Tree Hill in Auckland, taken 25 October 1921. This means the images were taken when he was just 15, shortly after he had bought his first box Brownie camera. With the words ‘CREAMOATA’ clearly marked on the wings of the bi-plane (an advertisement for Fleming's Creamoata oatmeal porridge), these images capture the occasion of the first flight from Invercargill to Auckland.

NZ Air Transport Company DH9 aeroplane, D3139, in a field at the foot of One Tree Hill, Auckland, after 'Creamoata' flight from Invercargill, sponsored by Fleming and Company, showing children inspecting the aircraft. Ref: WA-05263-F. NZ Air Transport Company DH9 aeroplane, D3139, in a field at the foot of One Tree Hill, Auckland, after 'Creamoata' flight from Invercargill, sponsored by Fleming and Company, showing children inspecting the aircraft. Ref: WA-05263-F.

Before he began his own business, Leo White was making a living by travelling around New Zealand in his baby Austin, freelancing for the NZ Herald, Christchurch Weekly Press, and working for the Auckland Weekly News. Many of these photographs remained with the Whites Aviation collection which have been digitised by the Library and can now be seen online.

During the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927, Leo was able to use his car to get to Rotorua and back to Auckland while the rest of the photographers were still waiting for the train. He managed to scoop the others and sell all of his images to the New Zealand Herald . While we don’t have all the photographs of the Duke and Duchess in Rotorua we do have others of this visit.

Duke and Duchess of York with huia feathers in their hats after the reception in Rotorua. Ref: WA-25130-G.Duke and Duchess of York with huia feathers in their hats after the reception in Rotorua. Ref: WA-25130-G.

White’s images from the 1920s include a trip to the whaling station at Whangamumu, Northland in July 1927, and adventures with his Austin in Northland.

Dead whale towed alongside whaling boat, including unidentified whalers, Bay of Islands, Far North District, Northland Region. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-25247-G.Dead whale towed alongside whaling boat, including unidentified whalers, Bay of Islands, Far North District, Northland Region. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-25247-G.

Leo White formed the company Stewart and White with Frank Stewart in 1939 specifically to take aerial photographs, and in 1945 formed his own company, Whites Aviation.

But he continued to take photographs of his holidays and trips. Images that show scenes of happy campers and holiday makers, skiers, yachts, and Māori as well as scenic views from all around New Zealand, particularly from the 1940s and ‘50s.

Yachting at Ohaku Bay, Auckland, competitors preparing their yachts. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-34584-F.Yachting at Ohaku Bay, Auckland, competitors preparing their yachts. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-34584-F.

Skiing on Coronet Peak, Otago, showing chalet and ski lift. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-28982-F.Skiing on Coronet Peak, Otago, showing chalet and ski lift. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-28982-F.

Fullers' 'cream trip' launch, Paihia, Bay of Islands. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-37167-F.Fullers' 'cream trip' launch, Paihia, Bay of Islands. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-37167-F.

White’s connection with the aviation industry means that there are also many images of aircraft and airports, airline personnel, and passengers. There are images of Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Hawaii, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Hong Kong and Australia taken to promote flights to these places by the commercial airlines.

Children gathering around, Samoa. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-31512-F.Children gathering around, Samoa. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-31512-F.

Bristol Freighter Tour, view of an unidentified man unloading a car off Bristol Freighter transport plane 'Merchant Venturer' G-AIMC with children looking on, Harewood Airport, Christchurch City. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-08507-G.Bristol Freighter Tour, view of an unidentified man unloading a car off Bristol Freighter transport plane 'Merchant Venturer' G-AIMC with children looking on, Harewood Airport, Christchurch City. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-08507-G.

But two images remain my own favourites.

One is of a barge towing a dis-assembled aircraft into Auckland, September 1939. This is labelled by Whites Aviation as ‘Royal Air Force sales’ and is one of a series of images with this label. The aircraft had presumably been bought as part of the expansion of the RNZAF aircraft from 1937 to 1939.

The second is of the lighthouse at Kaikoura. There is no information telling us what is happening in this image. Dated 1938, it portrays the lighthouse with a man beside a horse- drawn cart loaded with planks looking out to sea. The young man strides out of the frame in his shorts and gumboots. The image could seem almost Dickensian in atmosphere and time if it wasn’t for the young man in gumboots and shorts marching purposefully past the lighthouse and out of the frame.

Dismantled Oxford aircraft being barged into Auckland city, Royal New Zealand Air Force air sales. Ref: WA-21563-G.Dismantled Oxford aircraft being barged into Auckland city, Royal New Zealand Air Force air sales. Ref: WA-21563-G.

Kaikoura lighthouse with two unidentified men and a cart and horses beside it. Ref: WA-25032-G.Kaikoura lighthouse with two unidentified men and a cart and horses beside it. Ref: WA-25032-G.

Want to see more?

You can find more than 19,000 digitised non-aerial images in the collection. You can narrow the results further by adding other keywords. Make sure you put a ‘+’ sign immediately in front of each word e.g –aerial +whitianga +bodyboarding. You can also use the ‘Date’ filter at the side to narrow down your search to a particular decade or year. But be careful using the ‘subject’ filters. Most of the records for this collection are ‘scant’ records, which means that we did not include any subject, place or name headings when they were arranged and described.

And, of course, if you want to see the aerial photographs instead, just take the ‘-‘ sign out of the mix eg. aerial whitianga. With over 75,000 photographs in the collection there’s a lot to explore.


Jenni Chrisstoffels is the Pictorial Research Librarian in the Alexander Turnbull Library and worked as part of the team digitising the Whites Aviation collection – all 63,893 of them. Most of the information here came from Papers Past with some additional research about his early working life from an article about Leo White called ‘A life of thrills: adventures with a New Zealand press cameraman’, in Better Business July 1940 p.3-8.

Alexander Turnbull Library received the collection of Whites Aviation negatives and prints from Air Logistics in 2007. The Library also administers copyright for this collection. Most of the images that the Library holds have been digitised, but there are still more to go. If you are looking for a particular image and can’t find it, or if you’ve found a record with no image showing, you can contact the Library and we’ll try to help.

By Jenni Chrisstoffels

Jenni Chrisstoffels is the Research Librarian, Pictorial, in the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Richard McIntosh December 10th at 11:11AM

first.

Love these images. Invercargill to Auckland in 8h53m!

Glenda Gale December 10th at 3:48PM

Beautifully written blog with great images...well done Jenni

Sharon Middleton December 17th at 5:52PM

Beautiful pictures and very informative.

Peter Ireland January 13th at 3:29PM

This is excellent, Jenni, well done. A great selection by a fine photographer. Good idea to single out and to expand on his non-aerial views. Wondering what had been said (or done) to make the girl on the left of the group of Samoan children, laugh. And what are the children on the right holding on to?

Hamish Cameron June 10th at 11:23PM

Hi Jenni,
I need somehow to get a copy, digital or printed, of any of the aircraft and scenes at Timaru's Washdyke Airport in the early 1920's. Leo White in fact published some in his old standard, "Wingspread", where he documented the history of New Zealand Aviation until about 1950. Usually biplanes like the one at One Tree Hill (Herbert Fleming the owner of Creamota was on this flight) or Avro 504K's are featured along with "characters" in their long pilots coats and goggles etc. perhaps the curve of the hangar behind.
I hope you can help somehow, perhaps by checking the Leo White Collection.
(we have Chris Chrisstoffels' material in our collection at the South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre by the way, such a lovely chap)

Hamish (art and design with SCAHC)