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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Groove Book Review - Hand Coloured New Zealand - The Photographs of Whites Aviation

Before Google maps, computers or even colour photography Leo White was in the air taking some of the most iconic aerial photographs of our beautiful country.
Leo White was born in Auckland on 4 July 1906. His lifelong love of photography was sparked as a young boy when he acquired a Brownie box camera. Before he turned 20, White was a photographic contributor to major major New Zealand periodicals - The NZ Herald, The Auckland Star and The Christchurch Weekly Press.
He also knew the importance of being first off the mark in publishing. When he covered important events outside of Auckland, White would always take his 'baby Austin' car to seal his chance at the first image. It meant he could race home and beat the competition, who generally travelled by train.
White captured some of the first images of Auckland from the air in 1921, beginning a lifelong passion for flying which he combined with his love of photography. By 1945 White established the now famous Whites Aviation Ltd.

In the early 1950s, White began shooting photos for a book he published in 1952, Whites Pictorial Reference of New Zealand. The book became a bestseller and encouraged White to take more photographs in various sizes as artworks for New Zealand homes and businesses.
Today the hand tinted photographs captured by Leo White are highly sought after and are a great reference to the history of New Zealand. Every single photo coloured by hand? Using cotton wool? Yes, such was the era of hand-coloured photography – a painting and photograph in one – the way you got a high-quality colour photo before colour photography became mainstream.  Some of New Zealand’s best hand-coloured photos were produced by Whites Aviation from 1945. For over 40 years, the glorious scenic vistas were a sensation, adorning offices and lounges around the land; patriotic statements within New Zealand’s emerging visual arts. Now, despite massive changes in society and photography, the stunning scenes and subtle tones still enchant, as coveted collectibles; decorations on screen; and as respected pieces of photographic art.

But, until now, the inspirational story has not been told; nor have the full stories of Leo White (company founder); Clyde Stewart (chief photographer and head of colouring); and the mission-critical ‘colouring girls’. Hand-Coloured New Zealand also presents New Zealand’s first published collection of hand-coloured photography, and the most extensive published collection of such photography in the world.

Whites Aviation Ltd was established 1945 by Leo White (1906-1967) to produce a series of popular illustrated publications of aviation history and aerial photography. White began to freelance as a photographer in the 1920s, and later worked for the Weekly News. He was closely involved with aviation in Auckland 1920s-1930s, and pioneered aerial photography in the region. He compiled Wingspread, a history of New Zealand aviation, in 1941; and served as a photographer with the RNZAF during WWII. During the early 1950s he covered New Zealand by air, taking photographs for Whites pictorial reference of New Zealand. In 1988 the business was purchased by Air Logistics.

What an absolutely fabulous book.  A large coffee table format, biographical information about not only White, himself but his 'ladies' in the studio.  I learned that to further his company's income many of their commissioned photos were used not only for commercial and civic purposes but also recoloured for display on the walls of good homes all around New Zealand.

The photos of both iconic and lesser known landscapes are simply breath taking if you consider the planes used at the time - many not much more than what Jean Batten would have flown.  This book presents in A3 format many famous images including mountains and landscapes from the South Island and cith scapes like Christchurch - now forever changed.  This is the kind of book that will never date and you'll treasure it to return again and again to look and discover new things.  I'd recommend reading with a latte and a good record.  it's that kind of book, Groovers.

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