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Burton Brothers (1866-1914)

One of the most significant photographers in nineteenth-century New Zealand is Alfred Burton. He is particularly renowned for his collection of photos depicting the Māori people in the Whanganui and King Country regions. These photos, titled “Through the King Country with a camera: a photographers diary,” were published in 1885 as a supplement to his catalogue, “The Māori at Home,” in the Otago Daily Times.

Alfred Henry Burton (1834–1914) and Walter John Burton (1836–1880) were born in Leicester, England. Their father, John Burton, was a well-known photographer in the area. His company, John Burton and Sons, had the privilege of working with Queen Victoria and other members of the Royal Family.

In 1866, Walter Burton moved to Dunedin and successfully established his own photography studio. However, with the time-consuming nature of photography in the 1860s, Walter had more work than he could handle. As a result, in 1868, he convinced his older brother, Alfred, to join him, and they became partners in the Grand Photographic Saloon and Gallery on Princes Street, Dunedin.

While Walter focused on portrait photography, Alfred embarked on extensive travels, frequently venturing to Fiordland, the Southern Lakes, and South Westland. His collection of photographs, titled “Views of Fiordland,” played a crucial role in advocating for the area to be designated as a national park.

Nevertheless, the challenges of scenic photography in the 1860s were significant. Poor roads and river crossings on horseback posed risks to the cumbersome photographic equipment. In response, the Burton Brothers commissioned the construction of a photographic van in 1869. This mobile darkroom featured a collapsible roof for travel, eliminating the need to set up a dark tent and saving valuable time for developing photos.

In 1873, the Burton Brothers unveiled their first panoramas of Dunedin, including a breathtaking shot taken from Bedford House atop Bell Hill. This elevated perspective created an effect reminiscent of an aerial photograph.

Around the same time, the Burtons devised an innovative photo montage to promote their business, resembling a photographic CV. This masterpiece consisted of 780 portraits and earned recognition as one of the most ambitious commercial collages of its time. Among the notable personalities showcased were James Cook, Queen Victoria, and Julius Vogel.

Unfortunately, the partnership between Alfred and Walter ended on a bitter note in 1877. has the Volkenkunde book from 1987 now available.

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