Large project, large format

When you are dealing with as large an archive collection as I am, it makes sense to break projects into small(ish) sections.

Having over 6 million images to deal with, for example, is a task so enormous that one person can’t realistically hope to process every item in their lifetime. Especially alongside all the other tasks they have to do.

Completing small projects, therefore gives me a sense of great achievement, even though I know larger, and potentially more complex, projects move up my list of things to do.

Recently I completed a project that saw me processing the ‘large format’ section of the huge Tindall negative collection held at Ashburton Museum. As the name suggests these negatives are 8 x 10, almost A4 in size.  Processing this part of the collection was not possible until we obtained our new scanner, courtesy of the Ashburton Museum and Historical Society, who own this part of the collection I manage. It also required purchasing larger than normal envelopes made of special acid free paper, which we call enclosures.

Although we have a basic list of the contents of each packet of negatives, the subject of each can at times still be quite vague, with images labelled simply ‘smith girl’, or ‘wells family’. By scanning, we have a visual catalogue of images that will aid identification or help add details, such as the debutante image of Miss Molloy was also in a Methven High school uniform.

Each packet could have one or up to 30 images in them. As I processed them I placed each negative in a separate envelope and checked it for condition.  I scanned some, but not all, for example a packet of wedding images may have a number of different shots of the bride, bride and groom and so on; in that case I would only scan the wedding party as that has everyone. On request other images can be scanned as needed.

The collection is as one might expect of a commercial photographer. There are a lot of portraits, especially children and debutantes.  Weddings made up a large proportion of the collection and included posed studio groups but also candid shots at the reception, the bride saying bye to her mum and dad etc.  Sports groups were also there, as well as some business publicity shots. As I’ve said before, sometimes the background of the image is what interests me, for example one wedding shot included signage for Meadows and Kennedy – a local eatery – the only image we have of them in our collection.  So while many people will be interested in the faces, others may be interested in the images of buildings, cars, and of course the clothes the people are wearing.

I wouldn’t like to count the number of images I’ve handled, or even the number of scans I’ve made over the weeks I’ve worked on this project. However with each image now either scanned or at least rehoused in appropriate enclosures, I know one small section of the greater project is complete.

It’s always exciting scanning negatives as you are never quite sure what detail you may be able to pick up. I’ve really enjoyed it, although sometimes I thought it would never end. Here are some of the many images that have interested me and kept me going.

By Kathleen Stringer



  1. AIS store at night
  2. Technical old girls indoor basketball team 1956. I had no idea indoor basketball was played so early.
  3. A group from Farmers Co OP centennial dinner 1981
  4. A Presbyterian Senior Girls Bible class
  5. Ladies savage club. Savage clubs around the world incorporate the culture of the indigenous peoples in their activities. Here in New Zealand, female members are called ‘wahines’. While today it may be thought inappropriate to ‘dress up’ like Maori women, this group obviously were very proud of their costumes. Back row: three unknown women, Edith Gibson, Mrs Corbet, possibly Penny Cameron, unknown, May Gibson, unknown, Vi Schaper, Pat Johnstone.
  6. Smith girl – we don’t know her name, but I think this is my favourite image of the project. She just looks so sweet!
  7. N Scott. Its always frustrating when I don’t know the story behind an image. The image of N Scott had me puzzled until I showed this image to a colleague from the Aviation Museum and discovered the man is Pilot Officer Noel Herbert Scott. He became a Squadron Leader and was awarded the MBE for his work with the Air Training Corps in Ashburton. It’s my hope that as more of these images are seen, more information will be added to the catalogue by helpful researchers.

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