The long view

This post was co-authored by Mark Beatty, Photographer; Jenni Chrisstoffels, Research Librarian Pictorial; Win Lynch, Librarian; and Mark Strange, Senior Conservator Photographs.

Robert Percy Moore’s 2,455 panoramic negatives, taken between 1923 and circa 1934, depict New Zealand’s developing towns and cities, tourist hotspots, homesteads and gardens, and significant events. They form a fascinating collection but the quantity, condition, and size of Moore’s negatives (most are over one metre in length) meant that providing access was not going to be straightforward.

Since the early 1990s we’ve been working to conserve, describe, and digitise R P Moore’s negatives. The work has involved a number of specialists over a long period of time and while there is still more work to be done, we want to highlight what we have achieved so far and share a glimpse of New Zealand in the 1920s – the decade that was bookended by the Great War and the Great Depression – as captured by Moore with his Cirkut Camera.

Custom House Square, also known as the Exchange, Dunedin, taken between 1923 and 1928, Ref: Pan-0093Custom House Square, also known as the Exchange, Dunedin, taken between 1923 and 1928. Ref: Pan-0093 | Image zoom

Who was R P Moore?

The biographical account of Robert Percy (R P) Moore, photographer and entrepreneur, is sketchy. Moore died in Sydney in 1948, aged 66, long enough ago to be beyond the reach of any oral account of his life, but public records show he was born in 1881, in Christchurch, to Annie (née Kent) and Charles Moore, a draper then commercial traveller.

Moore trained as a photographer in Australia, where he spent most of his life, travelling back and forward to New Zealand. He married in 1914 and during the First World War he worked in Queensland, making postcard views and portraits of soldiers. His earliest panoramas were made in and around Sydney in 1919. You can read more about Moore’s Australian photography in Gael Newton’s chapter in Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920.

By 1923 Moore had returned to New Zealand where he established a panorama business at 80 Manners Street in Wellington, which he operated until 1931. During this period Moore also worked in Sydney, selling photographs from 379 Kent Street, and also travelled to Samoa. Approximately 200 of Moore’s panoramic prints made during the 1920s and 1930s are held by the State Library of New South Wales. Some of these bear the imprint of his Wellington address.

Moore’s photographs were promoted by the New Zealand Government’s Tourist and Publicity Department during the mid-1920s, with prints distributed to overseas hotels and railway companies’ offices.

Moore also formed Panora Studio with James Thompson in Rotorua in 1936, which ran for five years.

Apart from the shadows in the foreground of his photographs, the only known image of R P Moore is among this family group at the wedding of his sister Honor, in 1899. Moore was 17 years old. This reproduction was made available to the Library by Mrs Plimmer, wife of Moore’s nephew, Kenneth Henry Charles Plimmer (1906-1984).

Moore PortraitThe only known image of R P Moore is among this family group at the wedding of his sister Honor, in 1899. Moore was 17 years old. Ref: PAColl-5273

Newspaper notices, government tourist and publicity records, and business directories give us an outline of Moore’s business activities. What else is known about Moore concerns his working methods and much of this has been derived from the examination of his negatives during and following their conservation.

1920s New Zealand through R P Moore’s lens

Moore photographed the country’s urban and rural landscapes from Northland to Southland, capturing private homes and businesses, major public events, a royal visit, and group portraits. His collection also includes a series of photographs taken in Samoa.

Racecourses, bowling clubs and greens, and parks were all of interest to Moore.

Nelson bowling green, taken 1924, showing members on the green and the clubhouse at right rear, Ref: Pan-0158-FNelson bowling green, taken 1924, showing members on the green and the clubhouse at right rear. Ref: Pan-0158-F | Image zoom

Another area of interest was commercial, with Moore capturing exterior and interior views of businesses such as the Victoria Laundry in Hanson Street, Wellington, and Robert Holt’s timber mills near Napier.

Moore’s relationship with the Tourist and Publicity Department saw him photograph events of national interest. During the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927, Moore captured garden parties at Government House, children’s receptions and flag formations in various cities around the country, as well as the camping area by the Tongariro River where the Duke of York went fishing.

Moore’s photograph of the official reception for the Duke and Duchess in Palmerston North shows the fervour generated by the royal visit. His perfectly timed photograph captured the Duke in the distance on an early royal walk.

Reception to T R H Duke & Duchess of York, Palmerston North, taken 4 March 1927, Ref: Pan-2221 (top) and detail of same negative showing the Duke of York’s walkabout (bottom)Reception to T R H Duke & Duchess of York, Palmerston North, taken 4 March 1927, (top) and detail of same negative showing the Duke of York’s walkabout (bottom). Ref: Pan-2221 | Image zoom

Pan 2221 Detail

R P Moore’s entrepreneurial nature is evident in his photography of localities. He tended to visit a home or farm, take photographs and be introduced to neighbours in the area, which then would lead to more work for Moore. This practice means that we can gain a good idea of the environment surrounding the specific locations that Moore photographed.

Of historic value are a number of Moore’s photographs depicting buildings that have been lost to natural disasters and development, including houses in the Christchurch area that have been recently demolished because of severe damage caused by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

View down Ferry Road, Christchurch, taken between 1923 and 1928, showing the Edmonds factory, which was demolished in 1990, Ref: Pan-0215View down Ferry Road, Christchurch, taken between 1923 and 1928, showing the Edmonds factory, which was demolished in 1990, Ref: Pan-0215 | Image zoom

Making panoramas

R P Moore’s panoramas were made with a Cirkut camera. The camera rotated from left to right during the exposure, often taking about 40 to 50 seconds. To discover more about how this camera operated, you can view the camera manual (pdf) and watch a short demonstration of a Cirkut camera still in use today by photographer Benjamin Porter.

The Library holds examples of panoramas dating back to the 1860s, created by photographers who pieced together prints made from separate glass plate negatives. The development of the panorama camera, however, meant that the detail of a group of people or a wide scene could be captured in one single image.

One curious effect of the camera rotation was that it was possible for someone to be captured more than once in a panorama, such as in this photograph of Hamilton, in which a pedestrian (on the left) was moving in the same direction as the camera.

Victoria Street, Hamilton, taken 1923, showing a pedestrian (at left) captured five times, Ref: Pan-1938Victoria Street, Hamilton, taken 1923, showing a pedestrian (at left) captured five times. Ref: Pan-1938 | Image zoom

Moore’s negatives are made with a nitrate film base layer. Cellulose nitrate, celluloid, or nitrate film was the first plastic to be used for cinema film, then for still cameras. This lightweight, transparent and flexible film dramatically transformed photography, gave birth to the movie industry and to images made with panorama cameras.

Moore’s negatives were largely by manufactured Eastman Kodak, Canada, and a small number of British Rajar film is also present. The films come in two heights (8 and 10 inch reels) for his Cirkut camera #10. Cirkut film is in the largest professional format ever made.

Prints from the negatives were made by contact printing, where the negatives and photographic paper are held in contact and exposed to light in order to produce a positive print of the same size.

Nitrate film decays in a warm, humid climates and is renowned for its spectacular flammability. Generally, Moore’s film negatives are good condition, but a small number show the early stages of decay.

Archbishop Redwood’s Episcopal Golden Jubilee, St Patrick’s College, Wellington, 24 February 1924, Ref: Pan-0003Archbishop Redwood’s Episcopal Golden Jubilee, St Patrick’s College, Wellington, 24 February 1924. Ref: Pan-0003 | Image zoom

Conservation of the negatives

The Library occasionally acquires collections that are fragile, awkward, or in poor condition, where a conservation treatment to improve their preservation or access can be justified. When Moore’s nitrate film negatives were acquired by the Library, they were in an unusable state.

Moore stored his negatives in cardboard film boxes, which had once packaged the individual Cirkut films. To economise on space in his studio, Moore filled the boxes with multiple negatives – some containing up to 24 rolls. When tightly packed and, in some cases, stuck together, the negatives took on the shape of the box interiors and were firmly creased.

Tightly wound negatives creased from the interior of the original boxes in which they were stored.  Credit: Mark Strange, Conservation Services, ATL.Tightly wound negatives creased from the interior of the original boxes in which they were stored. Credit: Mark Strange, Conservation Services, ATL

The Library’s conservation treatment of the negatives, which began in 1992 and was completed over a three year period, enabled these items to be handled and used. The treatment was instigated by the then Curator of the Photographic Archive, John Sullivan, who recognised the research value of the negatives.

Treatment

When assessing the condition of the film, it was known that the number of negatives was large but could not be quantified, so the amount was estimated by weighing the 400 original negative boxes. This turned out to be usefully accurate (within 3%). A treatment plan was then proposed to enable their handling, access and preservation. This required making them flat.

The Library’s Senior Conservator of Photographs, Mark Strange, developed the plan to flatten, clean and store the negatives in individual protective enclosures. To flatten the film it was placed in a humidification chamber where the increased moisture made the gelatin layers flexible enough for the film to be fully unwound without springing back in a roll. Sometmes as many as twenty to thirty films were humidified in each batch.

Conservator Marion Mertens placing creased rolle of film into a humidification chamber. Credit: Mark Strange, Conservation Services, ATLConservator Marion Mertens placing creased rolle of film into a humidification chamber. Credit: Mark Strange, Conservation Services, ATL

Once humidified the film was pressed between thick blotters and dried under heavy weights for five to seven days. Repeated humidification and flattening was sometimes necessary for strongly curled films. When the films were sufficiently flat, they could be safely cleaned.

Conservator Mark Strange cleaning a flattened negative of the interior of Roach’s Department Store, Hastings, Ref: Pan-0570. Credit: Anna Sanderson, Conservation Services, ATLConservator Mark Strange cleaning a flattened negative of the interior of Roach’s Department Store, Hastings. Ref: Pan-0570 | Image zoom. Photo taken in 1994 by Anna Sanderson, Conservation Services, ATL

Once clean, the negatives were housed in custom-made enclosures made from Archivart 20pt alkaline-buffered library board with a 75-micron polyester cover, heat-welded along the upper edge. The films were then housed in long cardboard waxed boxes and placed in the Library’s film store, where they are kept at a constant 2°C and 30% relative humidity, with purified air. This atmosphere dramatically reduces the decay rate for inherently unstable nitrate film.

Observations about Moore’s working methods from his negatives

Once the negatives had been flattened, they could be examined, described and digitised. We found that the negatives revealed clues about how Moore worked. From one of the box labels we know that he created whole panoramas of clouds, probably to print a second image and enhance his pictures when there were no clouds on the day the photograph was made.

Exterior views of a box containing Moore's negatives of cloud scenes for embellishing scenery where the sky was less interesting.Exterior views of a box containing Moore's negatives of cloud scenes for embellishing scenery where the sky was less interesting.

Inscription on a film box, made by Moore on location, sent with the film to his staff at the business in Wellington: “Taken against light, sky cut out use clouds”.Inscription on a film box, made by Moore on location, sent with the film to his staff at the business in Wellington: “Taken against light, sky cut out use clouds”.

Other negatives had numerous pinholes in the corners, probably indicating how frequently they were printed. Entrance to Pelorus Sound, for instance, was one of Moore’s most popular images – evidenced by dozens of pinholes in one corner.

Entrance to Pelorus Sound, taken between 1923 and 1928, (top) and detail of the top right corner of this negative, showing dozens of pinholes (bottom). Ref: Pan-1022Entrance to Pelorus Sound, taken between 1923 and 1928, (top) and detail of the top right corner of this negative, showing dozens of pinholes (bottom). Ref: Pan-1022 | Image zoom

Pin Holes

One negative had a piece of paper pasted to the margin, with the client details and colouring instructions on one side. The paper was a re-used piece of office stationery – the left part of a typed letter. Sometime later, another piece of paper was found, containing the matching side of the letter. Although incomplete, it can be reasonably inferred that this was a form letter, revealing that Moore was a shrewd commercial operator and was using his commission from the Tourist and Publicity Department to attract business among affluent clients with large homes, gardens or farms.

Re-used piece of office stationery pasted to the margin of a negative with client details and colouring instructions.Re-used piece of office stationery pasted to the margin of a negative with client details and colouring instructions.

One of the most satisfying activities for a conservator is making inaccessible collections of great pictures visible and accessible again. In many respects, Moore’s work is great, and future generations are now better able to realise this.

Describing R P Moore’s negatives

Acquired after Moore’s death but with no register or listing, the negatives in this collection could not be described or digitised until the conservation treatment had been completed. A paper listing of the negatives was created while the negatives were undergoing treatment but because this list was incomplete and not available online, the rich content of this collection could not be shared with the public.

In 2013, the Curator of Photographs, Natalie Marshall, prioritised this collection for description and two members of the Library’s Arrangement & Description team, Win Lynch and Valda Edyvane, began creating a descriptive record for each of the negatives. The paper listing was a good starting point for these records but only covered a small portion of the negatives so Win, who carried out the bulk of the descriptive work over a three year period, consulted other sources in order to create full and accurate records.

Win Lynch views one of R P Moore’s negatives on a lightbox, 2014. Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATLWin Lynch views one of R P Moore’s negatives on a lightbox, 2014. Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATL

Many of the negatives themselves include a title, which was inscribed on the image itself in order to be included in any subsequent print. The title often includes the location and a date. In addition, Moore wrote notes on many of the original film boxes and the end margins of the negatives, capturing the location, the name and address of the property owner, and the number of copies ordered.

Moore often noted whether the client wanted black and white, sepia or hand-coloured prints, and sometimes he would include the date of photography. If hand-coloured prints had been ordered, Moore would note details about the colours of the scenery for the colourist, Moore’s sister (according to a descendant), such as “red roof, cream house, light and dark foliage, bring up snow in background, use discretion for rest”. Some negatives include notes for printing such as a panorama of Henry Montague Field’s house taken ca 1924, which includes the note “Print from fowlhouse on left – do not get it in” (Ref: Pan-0487).

For those negatives where a name and location were known, it was possible to glean further information from Wise’s Post Office directories or from other sources such as Papers Past and cemetery records. Moore’s photographs of towns sometimes listed the client as “Town Clerk”, in which case it was often possible to name the official, giving full details from Wise’s Post Office Directories. Some of the houses captured by Moore are now historic homes that have been listed by Heritage New Zealand, so information could be found on that agency’s website.

In each record, as much detail as possible has been included about the style of houses and architectural features such as finials, verandahs, and wrought iron. The type of farm (sheep, cattle, dairy, horse) and trees and plants were noted where possible, and when there are clear images of people, headings such as clothing and hats were noted because they illustrate the styles worn in the 1920s.

Large two-storied house with turret, Lower Hutt, taken between 1923 and 1926, Ref: Pan-0175Large two-storied house with turret, Lower Hutt, taken between 1923 and 1926. Ref: Pan-0175 | Image zoom

For those images with no information given by Moore, it was only possible to describe what could be seen, providing details of the style of house, type of countryside (flat, rolling or mountainous), types of vegetation, and animals. Occasionally it was possible to indicate a likely location, by matching a negative with others showing a similar view.

Sometimes Moore took a series of photographs at the same event, such as at the first Waitangi Day celebration, 1934.

Crowd scene at Waitangi, 1934, showing Lord and Lady Bledisloe at left, Ref: Pan-0083Crowd scene at Waitangi, 1934, showing Lord and Lady Bledisloe at left. Ref: Pan-0083 | Image zoom

Moore had his own numerical sequence from which it was possible to state categorically that a view was in a particular area, but many of the negatives were not assigned a number. The Library created its own numbering system (a sequence with the prefix ‘Pan’) but the numbers were assigned to the negatives based on the timing of conservation work rather than reflecting Moore’s own sequence.

Once the negatives had been fully described, the number of researchers requesting access to them increased considerably and we started to receive more and more digitisation requests. Due to the size of the negatives, two people are needed to retrieve and handle them during digitisation, so we began looking at ways to streamline this process.

Digitising panoramic negatives

The Library’s first effort at reproducing the R P Moore negatives was in the 1990s, when we created duplicate negatives using 8x10 film – the largest practical film format available. Duplicates in this format enabled a good level of access with easier handling.

In recent years, however, preference has been given to digitising the original negatives, rather than the duplicate negatives. Why go back to the original negatives when we have duplicate negatives that can be easily digitised? We found that improved digital systems provide significantly enhanced image quality and easier printing. It has also become standard practice that when we fill our public orders, we want to work from the original item.

By digitising directly from the panoramic negatives we are able to create a finer reproduction with higher resolution and greater dynamic (tonal) range.

This GIF compares detail from an older scan of a 120 copy negative with a more recent scan of the original negative. Detail of Custom House Square, Dunedin, taken between 1923 and 1928, Ref: Pan-0005This GIF compares detail from an older scan of a 120 copy negative with a more recent scan of the original negative. Detail of Custom House Square, Dunedin, taken between 1923 and 1928. Ref: Pan-0005 | Image zoom

The negatives, however, are up to 130 cm in length and 30 cm in height, which raises interesting challenges not easily solved with existing equipment. Before working on the R P Moore negatives, the largest negatives digitised by Imaging Services were glass plates up to 10 x 12 inches, using an A3 scanner.

Development of the Library’s panorail

Researching this challenge we came across the Enemark Project at The National Library of Australia. We made contact with photographer Sam Cooper and the NLA kindly shared their approach, including details of the design of one of their key pieces of equipment – the panorail.

Learning the effectiveness of the panorail, we designed our own, in collaboration Senior Conservator of Photographs, Mark Strange, to ensure negatives would be well cared for while they were being digitised. We worked with our manufacturer Workshop-E to further develop the design.

Our panorail consists of two pieces of framed glass on a rail, which is lit from below by a lightbox. The negative is placed between the pieces of glass and the frame is moved in between each capture. The glass on the panorail is hinged for ease of use, so it can be operated by one person.

Imaging Technician Llewe Jones operating the panorail, 2016, Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATLImaging Technician Llewe Jones operating the panorail, 2016, Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATL

We photograph the negatives using a Phase One 645df+ camera, 80 megapixel IQ180 Digital back using a 120mm AF macro f/4.0 lens. A Kaiser Prolite lightbox illuminates the negative as uniformly as possible.

Workflow

The camera height is fixed and the negative is captured emulsion side towards the camera. The camera is tethered to our PC so we can view results as we capture. A preview is taken to check on lens correction, focus, and white balance. Exposure levels may be adjusted.

We capture each negative in multiple parts. Three to four captures are made, depending on size of the negative. We ensure an overlap between captures of up to 20% which makes it easier to achieve precise photo merging of files in Photoshop.

This video demonstrates the panorail in action. Mark Beatty is shown digitising and processing R P Moore’s panoramic negative of the Octagon in Dunedin. On our website you can see the original image and zoom for extra detail. Ref: Pan-0015 | Image zoom

We then adjust the file to ensure the tonal values of the negative are well represented, to limit any loss in highlight and shadow detail. The final file that is produced equates to original size output at 600 dpi.

We have made improvements to our setup and now have a permanent location for the panorail in our main studio, with a column overhead to support the camera.

As part of a short term digitisation project in 2017, we had three contract photographers join the Library’s imaging team for four months. The photographers worked principally on the digitisation of Whites Aviation negatives but towards the end of the project we allocated time to the R P Moore collection so that we could trial how long it took to digitise these negatives with the new setup. Over the course of only five weeks they were able to digitise almost 200 negatives. At the time of writing this blog, a total of 510 negatives have been digitised and included on the Library’s website.

Photographer Dionne Ward digitising a panorama of the Delta Fishing Camp, Tokaanu, Ref: Pan-0354, in the main studio, 2017. Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATLPhotographer Dionne Ward digitising a panorama of the Delta Fishing Camp, Tokaanu. Ref: Pan-0354 | Image zoom, in the main studio, 2017. Credit: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, ATL

Want to explore the collection?

This link will take you straight to the collection. Add keywords to narrow down your search. Each record includes the place, plus the name and owner of the property (if relevant), as well as a good description of the image so you can use any of these as a keyword. For example, a Mr Steele owned an apple orchard in Hastings so you can use the keywords ‘Steele’ and ‘Hastings’ to find relevant images.

Instead of using the collection link, you could enter the keywords ‘Moore’ and ‘pan’, and other relevant keywords such as ‘Moore pan Hastings’. Then click on ‘images’ to just show the relevant records.

Although most images have not yet been digitised, we may be able to supply you with a scan from a collection of small prints that we have for some of the images. Use the ‘Send an enquiry’ button if you would like to do this. If you are able to visit the Library, you can view the ring binders of these prints in the General Reading Room.

Alternatively, you could order a high resolution copy of an original negative for $30.00. If the image has been digitised, you can use the ‘Order Copy’ button to obtain a high resolution copy.

Cheltenham Beach, Devonport, taken between 1923 and 1928. Ref: Pan-0184Cheltenham Beach, Devonport, taken between 1923 and 1928, Ref: Pan-0184 | Image zoom

Acknowledgments

Many people have played an important part in the acquisition, conservation, description, and digitisation of this collection. We would like to acknowledge and thank all those who have had a hand in caring for this collection.

During the conservation phase, the contributions of Marion Mertens, John Sullivan, John Greenlees, Janet Snell, Walter Cook, Anna Sanderson, Alan Bekhuis, Reece Nicol, Ron Edmands, David Ashman, Ramona To’o, Frank Fabry, Louise Newdick, and Alan Davies were invaluable.

Peter F Ireland curated the National Library Gallery’s 1995-1996 touring exhibition Taking a Wider View and Brian Davis produced duplicates on 8x10 film that were used for some years until a sufficiently high standard of digital reproduction was possible.

Christchurch photographer Rex Stace used a Cirkut camera and explained its use; Charlie Waters bought Moore’s camera and used it until selling it when he retired in the 1980s; Rayner Plimmer provided the Moore family wedding print. Clayton Tume has demonstrated Cirkut camera workings at the Library and also donated his own Cirkut and other panoramas to the Turnbull Library.

Digitisation has been the work of numerous Library staff and contractors, most notably Mark Beatty, Alicia Tolley, Llewe Jones, Claire Viskovic, Camus Wyatt, Dionne Ward and Melissa Irving.

By Natalie Marshall

Natalie is the Curator, Photographs, at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Helen Smith August 17th at 10:25AM

Thank you for writing such an interesting and detailed account of this process.