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

Posted: January 3, 2017 in nonfiction, Review


In 1945, Leo White, medically discharged from the RNZAF, spotted a niche for a company that could provide not only air travel services and aviation news, but also aerial photography for both corporate and public New Zealanders. White had been involved in photography and aviation for most of his adult life, and he built a team that could handle the firm’s diverse interests. Odd though one may think, though colour photography was available, all the photographs were black and white.

Peter Alsop has done a grand job of charting the rise and gradual decline, of Whites Aviation. He explains why it was Whites and not White’s or even Whites’.  He also explains why hand colouring was preferred over colour photography, with lack of colour fastness being a big issue with early colour film. Hand-colouring, almost invariably done by women, was a cheap and, in skilled hands, reliable method of bringing a black and white print to life. But beyond that, Leo and his team had a great eye for framing their shots, especially the landscapes.

Whites Aviation photos were the quintessential New Zealand landscapes – urban, industrial, rural, and natural. Not only were they sold in picture books, but also as postcards, civic and commercial adornments, and frequently displayed in living rooms. One even made it as a postage stamp. Alsop not only gives the history of the company, but also explores the undervalued art that is hand-colouring. He puts faces to the women, and hand colourists were almost exclusively women, and he follows the art and the influence of Whites photography forward to beyond 2010.

The book is divided into three main sections: the company and key personalities, the photography, and finally a gallery, which comprises approximately 250 photographs from a selection of over 70,000. The colouring of these phots is almost invariably great, though one of early 1950’s Wellington looked a little off.

This is not only a great coffee table book but a great book, and I thank Peter Alsop and Potton & Burton for bring this remarkable chapter in New Zealand art to my attention. If you can’t buy a copy, at least get it from the library and be prepared to be amazed.

Potton & Burton

Supplied by Potton & Burton

Reviewed by Steve

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