Some time ago, two banana boxes of dirty and damaged glass plate negatives came into the collection of Ashburton Museum.
These photo negatives came to us in absolutely terrible shape, having been covered in dirt and grime after being stored under the floorboards of a garden shed for possibly decades. These large format images (about 100 x 140mm) are made from thin sheets of glass with an albumin emulsion to produce a remarkably lifelike detailed image – tiny details can be seen once scanned into a positive image, and enlarged.
Thankfully, staff’s restorative skills have saved hundreds of the glass negatives so far, allowing us another window into Ashburton’s past.
Staff have painstakingly cleaned each glass negative plate with the help of our volunteers. Once each batch of negatives was cleaned, they were scanned as high quality images and saved into our vast digital photo collection. Once finished, the project of nearly eight hundred of these negatives had made their way into our digital collection – which means A great deal of effort went into preparing and scanning every single one.
Delicate tasks lead to global efforts
Since the glass negatives are grubby and are extremely hard to read before scanning, you only come to realise that the subjects of the photos are real human beings once they have been scanned and pop up on a computer monitor. The process of putting names to faces can be an arduous and doubtful one, as not all of the images have names still legible.
It is only with the support of the wider community that we can hope to identify all of the photographers’ subjects.
One of the most successful methods we have found for doing this is through our Facebook posts. After we posted a select few of these scanned glass negatives to our Facebook page, we received more comments and responses than we expected. Not only was the response great, but it was also extremely helpful – multiple people have come forward and identified the subjects of some of the negatives.
The Ng King family photos
Some of the first negatives we shared with the public were of early members of the Ng family in Ashburton, who were identified through Facebook sharing and discussion with family members today.
Family members identified photographs of Charlie King, James (Jimmy) King, as well as possible photos of Ng Hok Eng and Eng Moon Jem.
The Ng King family were extremely important in Ashburton’s history, and so it is extremely valuable for us, the family, and the town, to have photographs of the Kings on hand.
We are sure that none of these stylish gentlemen could ever have imagined that these treasured large format glass plates would one day circulate the globe in a digital format.
The most incredible part of this, however, is the fact that through the Ng family Facebook group these photographs made their way to different members of the family across the world, meaning that identifying the King negatives was an effort that spanned the globe.
Through continued crowdsourcing of the identification process for the photographed individuals, we are optimistic that eventually all the photo subjects will be named, or at least the ones whose faces are visible and are not completely lost where the fragile albumin surface has been blotted out.
Thanks to some community pointers and research we have discerned that these photographs were taken at the Halma’s studio. The photographers were situated in the Saunders building on East Street, which was demolished much later in the 1990s.
The building was home to a number of photography studios after Halma’s, including Charles Tindall’s studio whose collection is held at the museum; so this means that we have an almost-family tree of different photographers that worked under the same roof through the decades.
Overall, the identification of these glass negatives helps us to fill in gaps in the history of Ashburton and local people, and in knowing that the photographs were taken at Halma’s, we have a timeframe for these photos – as early as 1880-90 and as late as 1920 or 1930.
Without the help of the community in identifying the subjects of our glass negative collection, through Facebook or otherwise, we would be flying in the dark. With that said, our team at Ashburton Museum extend our sincerest thanks and humbly invite you to keep providing us with information about thee extraordinary glass plate negatives.
By Connor Lysaght
- Glass plate negatives ready to be cleaned.
- Photograph showing the Saunders building.
- Glass negative photograph of Charlie King, one of the Ng King family members.
- Negative of two women.
- Facebook comment examples.