Stepping out of the picture

00:58, Jul 03 2014
 Neville and Sally Bennett
IN THE PICTURE: Anne McEwan, manager photographic collection, is leaving after 21 years of working with the photographic collection at Isel Park. Anne is holding a glass plate negative.

A key guardian of Nelson's photographic history is stepping aside, but not out of the picture entirely.

The Nelson Provincial Museum's photographic collection manager, Anne McEwan, has been helping to care for one of the country's most extensive and significant photographic collections for 21 years, but now reckons it is time for someone else to take charge.

She is retiring tomorrow as manager but is looking at continuing to work up to two days a week verifying database records.

 Neville and Sally Bennett
RUNNING MAN: John Walker dashes through Stoke in November 1977. Anne McEwan, with her son Alastair McEwan and his friend Darryl Smith.

McEwan is part of the team working in the photo storeroom at the museum's Isel facility in Stoke which holds about 1.5 million images of Nelson's past. A large-scale project to digitise glass plate negatives of historic Nelson scenes has been under way since November 2010, and is about halfway through.

McEwan grew up in a home on the corner of Bisley Ave overlooking Tahunanui Beach, which is why a certain FN Jones photo remains one of her all-time favourites. The scene is "Gala Day, Tahuna" taken in about 1910 and shows a gathering enjoying a picnic day at the beach, including women in long dresses and tents set up on what is now known as "KFC corner".

McEwan began at the museum as a volunteer under former director Maurice Watson, who was in charge of the photographic collection. She replied to an advertisement seeking volunteers because of her interest in history.


McEwan, who is descended from Nelson artist John Gully and the Fitzsimmons family of Nelson, soon discovered many of her ancestors in the collection.

She has also been the interface between the collection and the public researching their histories and seeking to buy photo prints. The most popular requests for images are those of the growth of the Nelson port.

"It's up there with photos of people's houses."

McEwan said a 1939 aerial photo of burgeoning bungalows on the Tahunanui hillside was an ever-popular shot.

The museum is custodian of the Nelson Mail's negative collection, which tallies several hundred thousand images taken from 1978 to when the newspaper was digitised in the mid-1990s.

Nelson Mail chief photographer Martin de Ruyter said McEwan had carried out an invaluable task, and had on many occasions "got us out of many holes" at very short notice.

"We always tried to give her as many clues as possible but requests did always require quite a bit of detective work from Anne," de Ruyter said.

The Mail's collection features a shot taken in 1977 of McEwan, her young son Alastair and his friend Darryl Smith, watching New Zealand Olympic champion runner John Walker stride past them in Nelson.

McEwan recalled with amusement the denim blue flares she was wearing.

"He was here on a charity run from Nelson to Richmond and Geoffrey Wood [photographer] was trailing him and looking for a ‘crowd', so he grabbed me and my son and his friend, and that was the crowd."

McEwan said it was a close team that worked at the storage building and she had "procrastinated for about a year" about resigning.

She does not yet have too many plans for her spare time, other than cataloguing her own family photo collection.

The Nelson Mail