THE PHOTOS IN PETER ALSOP’S WONDERLAND (POTTON & BURTON) ARE A SAMPLING FROM THE ARCHIVES OF WHITES AVIATION. FOUNDED IN 1945, WHITES DEALT IN EVERYTHING FROM AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY, TO TRAVEL JOURNALISM, TO HAND-COLOURED PHOTOGRAPHY. ONE THING THEY DIDN’T DO WAS FLY; DESPITE THE COMPANY’S NAME, THEY NEVER OWNED A PLANE. THEIR PHOTOS, COLOURED BY HAND USING COTTON WOOL, DID FLY, ALL OVER AOTEAROA AND INTO THE NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS, IMAGES OF “NEW ZEALAND IN COLOUR” PROUDLY HUNG IN SITTING ROOMS ACROSS THE NATION.
There’s something about colourised photographs. They feel hyper-real. When you see them, you realise you think of the past as black and white, because that’s how it’s usually presented to us. A full spectrum really makes the years gone by pop.
The images in Wonderland first appeared in Alsop’s 2016 book Hand-Coloured New Zealand: The Photographs of Whites Aviation – Wonderland is a condensed version organised from Northland and Auckland through to the far south. They’re a delicious chronicle of quieter times, rendered in a kind of art/photo hybrid that is mimicked, but never close to matched, by the likes of the Valencia photo filter. My favourites: Cable Bay, Northland, circa 1961, with its smudgy red pohutukawa flowers; New Plymouth looking hamlet-sized in 1951; and the old Alexandra Bridge. Today it’s a ruin that sits next to the new bridge across the Clutha, but back then it was a riversong written in stone arches and cables. Does my nostalgia look big in this? – LW