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Anne Maxwell

University of Melbourne, Australia

Elizabeth Pulman (1836-1900) New Zealand

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My paper examines the works of Elizabeth Pulman, New Zealand’s first known woman photographer. A nineteenth-century studio photographer, she is particularly renowned for her photographs of Māori. Born in 1836 in the small town of Lym, County Cheshire in the UK, Elizabeth emigrated to New Zealand with her husband George in 1861. In 1868 George Pulman opened a photographic studio in the rapidly growing settlement of Auckland. It was just after the fiercely fought Land Wars. and cartes de viste albumen photographs of the most famous Māori warriors were in strong demand among the public. Working alongside George, Elizabeth learnt the craft of photography while also raising nine children. Then when George died suddenly in 1871, she assumed management of the studio and kept it running until her death in 1901.

Much of Pulman’s success can be attributed to her continuing to specialise in photographs of Māori. When George opened his studio it was not unusual for photographers to pay Māori to sit for their cameras, however when Elizabeth was managing the studio, many Māori were actively seeking out photographers for their ‘likenesses’ and Elizabeth’s was among the more popular studios answering to this demand. Where George’s photographs showed Māori much as they appeared before the arrival of Europeans – ie highly tattooed and draped in traditional feather cloaks, Elizabeth’s photographs showed them wearing a mix of Māori and western style clothing as a sign of their adaption to the Pakeha (European) world. At a time when most photographers were treating Māori as stereotypes, Elizabeth further distinguished herself by photographing Māori in a manner that captured their dignity and their individual personalities. Pulman’s photographs have special significance for present day Māori because of what they reveal of their ancestors, traditional Māori culture and the Māori way of life at an earlier moment in time.

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