Book Review: Hand-Coloured New Zealand – The Photographs of Whites Aviation, by Peter Alsop

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_handcoloured_new_zealandSometimes a book appears on the bookshelf in your local bookshop and it catches your eye and you think, “Wow, what an amazing book”. So, you step inside and take the book in your hands and start to flick through. Often it is sort-of interesting, nice pictures, a bit long, not really my thing. But sometimes, just sometimes, it absolutely captures your heart. This is that very special book.

From 1945 Whites Aviation took a number of photographs of New Zealand. These images were often spectacular, very beautiful and impressive. Then they went a step further. They decided that by hand-colouring each photograph they could produce an even more spectacular record of the beauty of New Zealand. The images are known to us still. They graced the walls of offices and homes, they travelled around the world on postcards and they are sought-after vintage photos for the current generation.

While all this sounds interesting it is the story of the people involved in this process which captivated me. Leo White who founded the company, Clyde Stewart who not only took the photographs but was the lead photo colourist and then the colouring-ladies. These remarkable women spent countless hours with cotton wool colouring each photo in a realistic and sympathetic way. The subtle tones and shades, the depth and the detail all came from their talented hands. The stories of the people behind the images added a real depth to the second half of the book: the plates themselves. So many of these images are familiar to me. I grew up with these in public buildings, in shops and offices and we even owned one of Franz Josef, which hung in pride of place in the good lounge!

The details are superb both in image and story. Leo White’s first images of the Homer Tunnel avalanche, of the Napier earthquake and then of Northland, where a night in the mud on 90 Mile Beach resulted in health issues for the rest of his life. In fact, he found the only relief from his asthma was the Glaciers, and spent 2-3 months each year in this favourite part of the country. It is such details that lift this book above the coffee table tomes of the past.

When you have read the stories, you get to enjoy the images. They are wonderful and all of my Christmas visitors have had a session at the dining table, reverently turning the pages. At $80, this is the best buy book of the year. It is big, beautiful and a bargain to boot.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Hand-Coloured New Zealand: The Photographs of Whites Aviation
by Peter Alsop
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503154

Books I’m Giving This Christmas by Stella Chrysostomou

Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed have just opened VOLUME, Nelson’s newest bookshop. Between them, they have decades of experience in bookselling, and Stella has been on our board for many years. Here is what Stella is buying for her friends and family this Christmas.  And you can win them: just tell us one book you plan to buy for Christmas in the comments, and/or over on Facebook!

Heap House, by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books) 9781471401572
After hearing Edward Carey at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in May, I was fascinated by his description of the world of the Iremongers, and this has been the find of the year for intriguing and excellent children’s writing. The third in the trilogy, Lungdon, has just been published, but start with Heap House. In the opening pages we are introduced to the unusual Iremonger family, who live on the outskirts of London where they collect and sift the rubbish which has grown into great moving heaps with a life-force all of its own. Meet Clod and the serving girl, Lucy, and begin an adventure of twists and turns, the unexpected and surprising. The language is captivating, the world is fascinating and the plot is both philosophical and beguiling. Great as a read-aloud, for summer family reading, and for 12+. Sarah Forster interviewed him earlier in the year, if you are keen to learn more.

The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey (VUP) 9781776560622
Recently released, Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child is a stunning portrayal of war-time Germany through the eyes of two children, Sieglinde, from a middle-class family in Berlin, and Erich, from a farm near Leipzig. Theirs is a story of secrets, fear and overwhelming loyalty – for both the right and wrong reasons – a story that plays out in an atmosphere of paranoia and loss. Yet there is beauty in the small details and the happenstance relationship between Sieglinde and Erich. Chidgey’s novel is reminiscent of Jenny Erpenbeck’s End of Days; it’s beautifully crafted, building tension and foreboding and never letting the reader off the hook. The narrator’s voice is one of haunting sadness, all-telling yet allusive. The Wish Child is a must-read for this summer.

This Model World, by Anthony Byrt (AUP) 9781869408589
cv_this_modern_worldIf you are looking to keep abreast of developments in contemporary NZ art, go no further than Anthony Byrt’s This Model World. Immensely readable, Byrt combines serious art discussion with his own personal take on our contemporary artists, as well as letting us into his world as a critic. Drawn from interviews conducted at the artists’ studios, the conversations flow and we are given an insight into what compels these artists to make, how they frame themselves in the world, and the ideas they discuss through their work. Artists include Shane Cotton, Judy Millar, Peter Robinson and Yvonne Todd. This Model World is remarkable in its ability to be simultaneously very personal and informative, with Byrt intertwining his own life into these observations about art and the place of art in our lives.

Hotel, by Joanna Walsh and Dust, by Michael Marder (Bloomsbury Academic) 9781628924732 and 9781628925586
cv_hotelBig ideas can come in small packages (a principle we represent at VOLUME!), and the books in the excellent ‘Object Lessons’ series published by Bloomsbury each take an everyday object (bread, hood, password, bookshelf, silence, &c) and explore the deep strata of meaning and cultural resonance inherent in that object but to which we are usually blinded through familiarity. Favourites read so far include Hotel by the incomparable Joanna Walsh (which correlates the breakdown of her marriage with her time spent as a hotel reviewer, and plays rigorously with the idea of the hotel and with the idea of home that is its complement and shadow) and Dust by Michael Marder (which explores the philosophical weight of the universal substance which is comprised of things that have lost both identity and form).

cv_children-of-the-new-worldChildren of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (Text Publishing) 9781925498387
The debut short story collection, Children of the New World, is the brainchild of American writer Alexander Weinstein. The opening story, ‘Saying Goodbye to Yang’, sees a family sitting around the dining table watching Yang, a sophisticated big brother robot, malfunction. In the story ‘Children of The New World’ a couple live a virtual existence, complete with two perfect children, a nice suburban house and everything is wonderful until they venture into the Dark City. Their adventuring brings a virus into their perfect world, creating chaos. Many of the characters in the stories are disconnected from each other and from place, addicted to their programmes, technological implants, computer generated improvements and virtual worlds. Weinstein gives us wry stories – many are darkly funny – which question our obsession with technology, social media, perfection, identity and our desire to recreate ourselves. Set in a near-future this collection is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Hand-Coloured New Zealand, by Peter Alsop (Potton & Burton) 9780947503154
cv_handcoloured_new_zealandHand-Coloured New Zealand is a stunning publication from the dream team of Peter Alsop and publisher, Potton & Burton. From 1945, Whites Aviation produced the best hand-coloured photographs. This book is a tribute to the expertise of the company that produced these works, to the photographers and colourists whose work was exquisite. There are in-depth chapters about Leo White, the company founder; Clyde Stewart, chief photographer and head of colouring; and my favourite entitled ‘One of the Girls’ about Grace Rawson and her work as a colourist at Whites. The book is generously illustrated; many images will be familiar, either glimpsed on an aunt’s wall or as large-scale photographs in public buildings. This beautifully produced publication is a must for collectors, photographers and for anyone interested in New Zealand’s social history.

by Stella Chrysotomou