In te ao Māori, portraiture can encompass rangatiratanga (stewardship), whanaungatanga (kinship or connectedness), manaakitanga (kindness towards others) and whakapapa (ancestral genealogy). A sense of wairua (the spirit of a person) also resonates within these treasured portraits.
Scottish-born brothers John Tait (1836–1907) and Alexander Tait (1839–1913) established themselves as photographers in gold rush Hokitika in about 1866, the period in which Catton’s The Luminaries is set. While building up a broader picture of photographers for the Hidden Light: Early Canterbury and West Coast Photography book and exhibition, I recalled an interview with the novelist at around the time of her 2013 Man Booker Prize success, and her mention of having restricted her reading for a year before starting the novel to nothing published after 1866, giving the National Library’s Papers Past credit as a vital source. The trails and condensed stories of many of the photographers in Hidden Light were largely brought together via this same indispensable means.