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A Century of Saying Cheese

Press Release                                                    

 ‘A Century of Saying Cheese’ – Heritage Photography Rediscovered

For Immediate Release

Nelson Provincial Museum’s newest exhibition ‘A Century of Saying Cheese’ celebrates the quirky, endearing and unexpected images from the Museum’s vast Glass Plate Photography Collection. Opening to the public on Friday 17 August, the exhibition will showcase previously unseen portraits of people, their pets, and places that cover nearly a century of photography in the region.

Taking its name from the instructions a photographer would give to make a subject smile, ‘say cheese’, Nelson Provincial Museum hopes that visitors to the exhibition leave smiling too.

This entirely self-developed show is based on the Museum’s recently digitised collection of 150,000 glass plate photographs, which recently received a UNESCO honour. Nelson Museum’s Chief Executive Lucinda Blackley-Jimson says, “Our images are more accessible than ever before, revealing some wonderful and surprising stories behind the images. One of our favourite aspects of working with this collection is finding a photo that makes people smile.  The exhibition shows our region’s forefathers and mothers as our contemporaries –  they often had the same aspirations and struggles we do, they were more diverse than we often think and they were quite capable of having a very good time.”

In addition to seeing the photographs that span nearly a century (1860-1950), visitors will be able to experience what it was like to have a studio photo taken, learn about the alchemy of wet plate photography, and discover that image retouching and ‘face tuning’ to remove blemishes and wrinkles from portraits existed long before Photoshop.

Nils Pokel, Experience Leader, whose team worked for over six months to develop the show, says, “Glass plate photography was quite an expensive undertaking for many people and the portraits in the exhibition may have been the only photo taken of that person in their entire life. How they portrayed themselves, including which props they chose or the fact that they brought in the family dog for the photo, said a lot about the person.”

The exhibition sets out to challenge people’s perceptions of heritage photography. “Many people comment on how sad people looked in early photographs, as they never seem to smile, but we have found some real gems of animated people caught mid-laugh and there is a real joy of life to them. We set out to combine that joy from the photos, with interactive, hands on experiences that will be entertaining and leave people with a new appreciation.”

The inclusion of cutting-edge interactive elements like an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered ‘chatbot’ that enables visitors to question an early settler ‘Mrs Grandma Higgins’ about her life via Facebook Messenger, and a Machine Learning app that matches visitors with their own ‘twin from history’ just by scanning their face, harnesses the new possibilities of digital technology to bring the exhibition experience to life.

The Museum has been attracting record numbers to its exhibitions over the last 12-month with 83,000 people visiting the museum. Lucinda Blackley-Jimson concludes “This exhibition is a story that only we can tell with the amazingly rich historic photographic collection in the Museum and we are looking forward to seeing the audiences’ reactions.”

The exhibition will run from 17 August until 25 November 2018 at the Nelson Provincial Museum, 270 Trafalgar Street, Nelson. The exhibition will be free of charge for Nelson Tasman residents.


For media contact:

Shelley Doherty – Marketing & Communications Developer (027 547 5858) or

Nils Pokel – Experience Leader (021 144 9811)

Image Credits:

Miss Earnslaw. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 41078 (NB: stripy ladies)

Prouse & Saunders Flaxmill Workers, Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, 177643

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