Picturing Colonial New Zealand: Charles Spencer’s Images of the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, the Pink and White Terraces

By Alan Robert Cocker.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the projection of New Zealand to the world, the photograph has played a central role but one largely neglected in the written history of the nation. Rather than the words of the writer or the brush strokes of the artist, it has often been the photograph which has shaped the international percep- tion of New Zealand and its people and lured the traveller and the immigrant. Charles Spencer’s photographs were important in the European travellers’ discovery of New Zealand. He was particularly known for his photographs of the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ the Pink and White Terraces in the central North Island. After the ‘New Zealand Wars’ of the 1860s, the following two decades marked a new era for the country as tourists, their curiosity aroused by the work of the early photographers, began arriving to see the country’s natural wonders and exotic indigenous people. Yet, any assessment of the legacy of photographers of the colonial period like Charles Spencer must also address the ‘post-colonial’ critique, which argues that the camera must be viewed as a tool of European colonisation that saw the land and the people through a distorted ‘colonial gaze.’

Keywords: The Colonial Image, Photography and Tourism, Perceptions of New Zealand

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.21-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 8.556MB).

Dr. Alan Robert Cocker

Head of School, School/Department, School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

Dr. Alan Robert Cocker’s research interest is the history of photography in New Zealand. It has been claimed that: ‘The history of photography in New Zealand is unique because the period of pioneer colonization closely coincided with the invention and development of photography.’ This statement foregrounds the role of photography in recording the colonial encounter and European settlement of New Zealand. In the past few years, Dr. Cocker has looked at key aspects of this encounter whilst addressing the post-colonial critique of ‘colonial’ photography.