A rare find

A rare find

This amazing vintage print came up for sale on TradeMe recentily and I immidately added it to my watchilst. After initially being outbid, I waited until the last seconds of the auction before placing another bid and swooped in to win the prize.

As with most of my finds on TradeMe, there was little information about the photograph except that it came from an estate sale and was found amongst several other belongings that all dated to around 1900. Other than the sepia tones, some staining and scratches, the photograph is in excellent condition and lacks graininess that you could mistake it for a modern image.

What really gives one a sense of the age of picture is the indentations on the woman's chin along the lines of her moko. This scarring shows that the tattoo was done by hand, before the existence of modern tattoo machines.

Unless someone out there can recognise this photo, we'll never know who the photographer was - the print is mounted on blank board and this wise old woman's story is lost to time. I wonder what she was thinking. She looks contemplative and not particularly fazed by having her photograph taken.

I'm always amazed at the incredible sharpness of many vintage photographs and I think this is partly why I am so drawn to them - that they can sometimes have such a lifelike quality  and vibrancy to them, despite their great age and the crude technology used to create them. But then, it's not such a stretch - essentially all early photography was medium format.

Medium format is just a term given to film photography that uses a larger negative than general photography. The bigger the negative, the more detail can be recorded, the better the print. Pre-digital, medium format photography was mostly used by professional photographers for the fashion and advertising industries. 

In the vintage era though, negatives where glass and generally quite large so essentially all glass negatives are medium format.  The introduction of 35mm film and 16mm film meant cameras could be more portable but photo quality was sacrificed. Thanks to this reduction of size, we have a whole generation of candid photography that will never have the same incredible depth of detail as the photographs that preceeded it. 

Visit the portfolio page to view the restoration of the image.

Posted: Mon 24 May 2021

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