Author(s): Michael Fitzgerald & Claire Regnault
A powerful book of portraits, offering an extraordinary, evocative snapshot of New Zealanders facing the First World War. Berry & Co was a Wellington photographic studio in the early twentieth century. In the 1990s, a tenant of 147 Cuba Street, Wellington, discovered around 3,000 glass plate negatives in a cupboard. This transpired to be the remarkable Berry & Co Collection, now held by Te Papa. Amongst the studio portraits in the collection are around 130 showing servicemen in uniforms, sometimes posing with families and friends. Many of these would have been taken before the men left to fight, or while on leave from the European theatres of war. Together, they offer a potent snapshot of the New Zealand of the time - and the changing face of the war itself. The beautifully reproduced portraits are accompanied by the carefully researched stories of the soldiers and their loved ones. Many of these stories have only recently come to light, with the help of public interest and information from descendants. Though these soldiers represent only a tiny fraction of the thousands of men who departed to join the fighting overseas, through their poignant stories we are granted a remarkable lens on New Zealanders' experiences of anxiety, hope, fear, pride and love over the span of the First World War. Publication of the book coincides with the broadcast of a brand new TVNZ documentary that tells the remarkable stories of several soldiers from the Berry & Co portraits.
A cache of glass plate photographic negatives was discovered in an upper story of a building in Cuba Street in Wellington. Formerly the premises of Berry & Co. Photographers, the negatives were found in the 1980s when a new tenant moved into the building. The negatives, some named and others not, received some publicity and have since been restored and, where possible, identified. ‘The portraits show seventy-two individual solders, ranging in age from seventeen to sixty-five, as well as seventeen couples, five wedding portraits, and fourteen family groups.’ The portraits are remarkable for their clarity and also for the depth of feeling their subjects engender. Young men with anxious eyes, mothers and wives looking fearful and children looking solemn before the novelty of a camera. Where the subject of the photo is known there is an accompanying overview of their life pre-war, their war service and the outcome of that service. Some served for very short times before succumbing to illness, while others were gassed, wounded or killed outright. These short accounts are sobering and made me aware yet again of the huge sacrifice New Zealanders both in active and non-active roles, made in the First World War. There is a strong introduction to Berry Boys and the writing is coherent and extremely interesting. - Marie
Michael Fitzgerald is Curator Colonial New Zealand at Te Papa, and has a particular interest in New Zealanders' wartime experiences and an in-depth knowledge of related collections at Te Papa. He is working on a range of public programmes to mark the centenary of the First World War, including ongoing research into the life stories of soldiers and their families whose portraits were taken at the Berry & Co studio in Wellington. Claire Regnault is Senior Curator History (Creative Industries) at Te Papa, and has a broad curatorial practice. She is a co-author of The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design Since 1940 (Random House, 2010), which was a finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards, author of The New Zealand Gown of the Year (HBCT, 2003), and has contributed essays to a number of publications including Black: History of Black in Fashion, Society and Culture in New Zealand (Penguin, 2012), Micromosaic: Antarctic Landscapes (Artist's publication, 2012) and the forthcoming Otago University Press pubication The Lives of Objects.