Sunday, April 13, 2008

A love of light and shade, form and texture

From the Fritz Fange looking over the Franz Josef Glacier and to Eli de Beaumont left and the Minarets right..

Last week I read Pete McGregor's blog where he was discussing black and white, as compared to colour photography. I thought of Ebenezer Teichelmann when I read the lines "to see in black and white is mostly a matter of imagination. To look at a landscape, a street scene, or—much harder—a flock of brightly coloured parakeets and to be able to visualise what a photo of those subjects might look like in black and white differs hugely from the knack of knowing these would make lovely colour photos."

Ebenezer Teichelmann,(pictured above) the most brilliant New Zealand mountain, landscape, place and people photographer of the early 20th century, was recently described by my friend Bruce White of Hokitika, as having "a love of light and shade, form and texture." You can see it in his photographs. Look at the light, composition and his sheer artistry.
But because he lived on the remote West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand from 1897 to his death in 1938, he has never been fully recognised for his stupendous contribution to New Zealand as one of our greatest mountaineers, surgeons, conservationists, photographers, soldier/doctor, humanitarian and gardener. He also pioneered the term 'knowledge sharing' when he set up the Carnegie library and the Westland Institute in 1905.
Lake Mahinapua

The East Ridge and East Face of Aoraki Mt.Cook

The art of photography had fascinated Ebenezer Teichelmann ever since he was a young man, and after his arrival in New Zealand in 1897, he was inspired to compose and record what he saw. When exactly he had acquired the knowledge and equipment is not clear, but by the time he arrived in Hokitika he had both. Strongly in love with the curves and angles of nature, he set about creating a huge collection of images that reveal today the extent of his love of light and shade, form and texture.
Another great alpine photographer and later friend of Ebenezer's, Canterbury’s Will Kennedy, describes Teichelmann’s ability with the camera:
Though the Doctor possessed a number of cameras most of his photographic work was done with 5 x 4 film and a whole plate camera. The few who now-a-day know what a weighty and cumbersome thing a whole-plate camera is with all its attendant paraphernalia including supplies of heavy glass plates, will understand why the porters (used only on the lower levels) regarded with askance, and tried to dodge those swags containing the heavier parts of this photographic outfit.

Red Lake with Mt. Cook in the background. The weather is not that good so look how he places a man to get a reflection in the lake.

Yet, that whole-plate camera found its way, in spite of all its drawbacks, up the Franz Josef Glacier to Cape Defiance and on to the summit of Halcombe Peak; up the Fox Glacier as far as the Pioneer Ridge; up the Cook River Valley to near the head of the La Perouse Glacier, and up on to the Balfour Range; up the Waiototo Valley and on to the Therma Glacier; up on to the Sealy Range; and up the Tasman Glacier to the Malte Brun Hut.

The west face of Mt. Haidinger

This camera which he kept to the end of the chapter reflects much of the finest photographic work the Doctor produced, both alpine and otherwise.
Remarkably fine photographic results were obtained from about the heads of the more southerly sub-tributaries of the Big Wanganui namely the Lord and the Lambert, and from the Divide Peaks of Malcolm, Snowy and Tyndall, and these photographs later proved of great assistance in the mapping of this country.

Newton Peak

On the eastern side of the Main Range with the Hermitage as centre, the Doctor did additional fine camera work from the Sealy Range, Footstool, Haast Ridge and Malte Brun Range. Though he ascended Mount Cook (third ascent) via the Linda Glacier, owing to adverse weather conditions no photographic records were taken. From all his alpine standpoints the Doctor made it a practice to secure panoramas as nearly complete as possible.

Dr. Teichelmann taking a photograph on the Upper Fritz Range, Franz Josef Glacier

The diversity of his photography is illustrated in the Department of Lands and Survey, Extract From The Annual Report On Scenery — Preservation For The Year Ended 31st March 1930, written by Dr L. Cockayne C.M.G.F.R.S, and Dr E. Teichelmann, Member of English Alpine Club. There is a selection of nine of his photographs ranging from a close-up of crape ferns to forest and mountain landscapes. Many of his photographs appeared in New Zealand Alpine Journals, various climbing books and were used extensively by the New Zealand Tourism Department to promote the West Coast overseas.

The successful party after the third ascent of Aoraki/Mt.Cook in 1905. Teichelmann sitting on the right.

His photographic work was acknowledged publicly by the Chairman of the Westland County Council, Mr W. J. Jefferies, in a farewell speech in 1926: “The Doctor’s work in booklets and pamphlets had gone all over the world and he had not spared himself in his efforts to extol the beauties and attractions of Westland.”

How long did Alec Graham have to wait before Teichelmann got the right light and composition in an ice hole on the Tasman Glacier?

The mayor at the time, George Perry added, “He had taken a particularly prominent part in advertising the district, especially its alpine attractions. His photographs were excellent and the record he possessed was a tribute to his pluck and skill.”
It is quite clear that Teichelmann’s photography was a key element in raising public awareness for the early scenic reserve status given to Lake Kaniere, Punakaiki, Arthur’s Pass and the four Glacial Scenic Reserves that eventually made up the Westland National Park in 1960. Punakaiki (Paparoa) and Arthur's Pass also became National Parks.

South Face of Aoraki/Mt. Cook from Hooker valley

But photographic skills do not arrive overnight, nor from reading a book. They are acquired through trial and error. Alpine photography requires a keen sense of light values, and Peter Graham recalled that the Doctor's first attempts on the Spencer Glacier were all over-exposed. Fortunately he learned from the experience and went on to become one of the best of his era.

Landing supplies at Bruce Bay

The Doctor was very keen to see the International Exhibition being held at Hagley Park in 1907, for it contained many of his photographs. At the Hermitage that year Teichelmann was met by Mr Longdon, the director of the British Art Collection, who had travelled to New Zealand to see the exhibition. Longdon was also a mountaineer, and was checking out climbing possibilities whilst in New Zealand. They enjoyed each other's company in the Mount Cook area, before Teichelmann set off to Christchurch for the exhibition while Newton and Graham continued climbing.
Teichelmann’s close friend and mountaineer Will Kennedy, some six years his junior, first met Ebenezer at the 1907 International Exhibition in Christchurch where Kennedy had been taken with magnificence of Teichelmann’s photography.
Among the photographic exhibits adorning its walls were displays of many whole-plate photographs of Westland scenery bearing his name. The outstanding beauty and excellence of these photographs attracted my attention so tremendously that I longed to know the man who was responsible for them.
Kennedy was President of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club and an active member of the New Zealand Alpine Club. They shared a common interest in mountaineering and photography. But the Doctor’s lack of a system prompted Kennedy to help him.
On one occasion, during one of his many visits to Teichelmann’s home in Hokitika, Kennedy, always a methodical man, decided to tidy up the Doctor’s photographic records by cataloguing them properly. From that day on it was Teichelmann's humorous lament that he could no longer find anything.

Looking down the Wanganui River, South Westland

When I returned to New Zealand in November 2003 to do some finishing touches to this book, an album of 600 prints of Ebenezer Teichelmann had been recently discovered in a garage in Christchurch. I trembled as I opened this book on Colin Monteath’s table in his library as if I was opening a door for the resurrected Doctor. The album was divided into 11 sections and each print was a 5 inch by 4 inch contact print of his large format negatives. Each photograph had a neat white border around it, with a number and a brief but accurate caption. Who had put this album together? Ebenezer Teichelmann himself, or was it Will Kennedy working with Teichelmann to get his photographs into a tidy collection? One clue is the caption to the photograph captioned Alf Day, followed by a question mark. Day should have been Alf Dale. Teichelmann would never have made a mistake with a name on a fine and much respected travelling companion. Perhaps Teichelmann dictated the captions to Will Kennedy.
Strangely, all the photographs in this album were taken before 1912. Was this the first of a series or a one-off? The album reveals the human face of miners, ferry-men, Maori communities, ships, railway lines, bridges, roads, horses, homesteads, camps, huts, houses, hotels, fellow climbers, waterfalls, river-crossings and rivers, creeks, lakes, gorges, passes, glaciers, ice-falls, hot springs, ice tunnels, and wonderful mountain landscapes. One classic photo is of Dr. Teichelman, in mining clothes and a sou’-wester hat, ready to go down a mine shaft. (BELOW)

Teichelmann’s photographs (and Newton) appeared regularly in the Canterbury Times, New Zealand Graphic, Weekly News and the Otago Witness and a stand alone supplement named ‘A Tour Through Westland‘ all between 1902 and 1910.
Dorothy Fletcher has in her collection a large brown album with all the photographs that he and Teichelmann had published, along with a handful of other climbers. This album was sent by Henry Newton and has inscribed in the inside cover,
Alex Graham in remembrance of old days,
Henry E Newton

Dorothy said Canon Newton sent it to her father, Alec Graham in the early 1930s.
Newton has made a detailed index of each photograph and story published by he and Teichelmann in his unmistakable handwriting that one gets to know after reading his hand written diaries.
Teichelman (l) before the first ever flight over the glaciers of South Westland in 1924.

The photographs are a smorgasbord of panoramic mountain centerfolds, small cameos of life in Westland, people, homesteads, ships, valleys, rivers, gorges, mountaineering, a selection of which are in this book.
But not everyone was overawed with Teichelmann’s photography. Louisa Graham had to give up the use of her bathroom at Waiho, Franz Josef to Dr. Teichelmann and her husband Alec. It was converted into a darkroom every time they returned from a trip for the Doctor to develop his large 4x5 inch negatives. “This became routine after every major trip in the mountains as Teichy wanted to get the negatives developed as quickly as possible at our house so he and Daddy could enjoy the fruits of their labours after carrying the heavy camera into the high mountains,” said Dorothy Fletcher.
One can imagine the anticipation and excitement that built up in the Graham bathroom as each plate negative was developed, and the results admired or rejected.
Teichelmann was fortunate in having a sound professional photographer in Ben Thiem, who was based in Hokitika. Being a busy professional, Teichelmann didn’t have the time to print his own negatives and then mount them on glass to use as lantern slides. So the Doctor used Ben to do quite a lot of his processing work.
Sherry Cowie donated a wooden large box of lantern slides to Dorothy Fletcher. In the accompanying note Sherry writes, “These slides were from Ben Thiem, a photographer in Hokitika. My mother, Sybil Turner, worked for him in the 1930s. She got these from either Ben Thiem, or ET (Ebenezer Teichelmann), who was a second father to Sybil.” In examining these lantern slides, they would appear to be those taken by Dr Teichelmann and appear elsewhere. However, with the close relationship between W. A. Kennedy, Ben Thiem, and the Doctor, occasionally they would borrow slides from each other, and possibly give each other slides, so they could give more complete presentations.
Ebenezer Teichelmann
Impressions as a child are often vivid and accurate, and Dorothy Fletcher recalls the atmosphere when visiting Dr Teichelmann’s home as a young girl every time she did a trip to Hokitika with her father, Alec Graham, and it was always the last stop. “He loved to see dad and it was always a warm welcome for him and me. Teichy did all his work in a large, darkish room with a distinctive smell of pipe tobacco,” she recalled, as her visits were usually late in the afternoon and the trees would block the sunlight. “He had a big chair, photos on the wall of mountains and people. Cameras, tripods, slide boxes, maps, photographs, books, magazines letters, papers and his pipes were scattered around. “My sister and I were fascinated by his pipes as some of them had little caps on them,” recalls Dorothy Fletcher. He wasn’t untidy or disorganized, rather a busy man and appeared to have systems for filing and storing.

Dorothy also mentioned that Teichy had copied photographs from Buller’s Book of Birds to enhance his photographic slide talks .

Packing supplies up the Waiatoto in 1909 for the first attempt on Mt. Aspiring from the west.

Teichelmann could count on a number of leading New Zealand scientists as his friends. Among these was Dr Leonard Cockayne the botanist, and Professor R. Speight the geologist. On 13 June 1928, Professor Speight introduced Dr Teichelmann to a full audience at the Christchurch Public Library lecture room. The Doctor’s lantern lecture was on ‘New Zealand alpine, lake, and forest scenery', which was given under the auspices of the Christchurch Tramping Club.

In a free conversational style, always interesting, Dr Teichelmann described the different slides as they were screened. The majority were of the Southern Alps, their high peaks, great glaciers, and other prominent and interesting features. Especially noteworthy was the series showing Aorangi, ‘the cloud piercer,’ Mount Cook, from various aspects. For the purpose of contrast they were shown views of the Swiss Alps and of Mount Everest. The views of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers were especially fine and the combination views of Westland scenery — alps, lake, and forest — evoked warm applause…

Tourism was imperceptibly becoming a significant revenue earner for the West Coast. The jewels in the Coast crown were the glaciers, but tourists would stay at Hokitika, Ross, Harihari or Whataroa en route. In 1923–24 the Hokitika Exhibition was staged, and it brought large crowds to the region. Teichelmann was busy behind the scenes ensuring the exhibition was a success. Many of his photographs were used in promotions and displays.
Lake Mapourika, South Westland

Ebenezer Teichelmann not only mastered the idiosyncracies of large format photography, but he excelled with images that extolled the beauties of his beloved mountains and West Coast. His prints were sought after for promotional publications, and the outstanding quality of his large prints with their superb tonal range must rank him among the best of his time. Had he exhibited in North America or Europe, his name would be far more widely known as a photographer.

The extract above is from my book on Ebenezer Teichelmann. The covers of the two versions are pasted below. Available at:
or at Take Note, Hokitika.New Zealand. Distributed by Craig Potton Publishing in New Zealand.

If you want to learn more about Ebenezer Teichelmann, go to my blog which is about his life and times.

Ebenezer Teichelmann in old age. He was 77 when this photo was taken in 1937.