Jun 3, 2008

Centenarian Christchurch Photographer

The photographs of Gladys Goodall form an important visual record of the province for the three decades from 1950. Above is a southerly view of the Bridge of Remembrance, one of her early images of Christchurch.

Approximately 10,940 colour transparencies and 950 postcards by Goodall are held within the photographic archive of the Alexander Turnbull Library at Wellington.

Gladys Mary Goodall was born on the 2nd of June, 1908, the second eldest of eight children and grew up on a remote north Otago farm. After training to become a nurse, she worked at Timaru and Christchurch until 1952.

Goodall took her small Agfa camera with her on alpine tramping expeditions, capturing the scenery on film. When her tour bus driver husband Stan showed some of the photographs to his tourists, he found they were enormously popular. So, at age 44, Gladys left her nursing career and set up shop as an independent scenic postcard photographer, operating out of an upstairs studio of an 1860s house at 73a Kilmore Street (at the corner of Victoria Street) in Christchurch. The small business boomed through the 1950s, and her reputation as a scenic photographer flourished.

In 1960 Gladys negotiated an exclusive contract with Whitcombe and Tombs to provide colour photography for their postcards, colour transparencies and calendars, "I wouldn't go into it until I had a written agreement that I would be their only photographer. Otherwise I would have gone bankrupt in three months. This was in the days when women didn't say no to General Managers. Eventually he agreed and got the shock of his life when he found that he had to keep to the contract."

In her new role she created a fascinating record of this country in the postwar period, populated by mid-length polyester walk shorts, grandiose municipal flowerbeds and unreconstructed Kiwiana Kitsch. Her photographic aesthetic, with its plain formality and geometry that seemed to reflect her formidable Puritan work ethic, was ideal for the subject matter.

While the publisher's contract gave her the chance to create a new career for herself in an age colour photography, it was far from being an easy ride. All her expenses; travel, accommodation, paying pilots for aerial shots and so on, had to come out of the royalty payments she received from card sales. She traveled the country alone on primitive roads in her trusty yellow Mark III Ford, which clocked up more than 160,000 kilometres until it was written off in an accident, which left her in Thames hospital for a month.

She'd be away from home for up to four months at a time, effectively having to re-photograph the entire country every few years, to keep the postcards up to date, "That's why mine were selling so well, because they were new and all the new things were in them. But you had to re-photograph places when they changed. Wellington was changing every month, we'd get one postcard printed and it'd be out of date in no time."

Goodall's photographs were sold not just as postcards, but also in the popular Panorama series of booklets. Perhaps the secret of her popularity was tactic of tapping into local knowledge of local sights: "I always went to the people in the shops which sold postcards and asked what tourists asked for in the area. I did my research and never took a photo until I'd spoken to the people who were going to sell them. There's no point in taking the most beautiful photograph in the world if it won't sell."

Her photography helped define affluent postwar New Zealand's image of itself as a scenic wonderland. Not all of her cards were spectacular tourist shots, however. Her photographs of the main roads of small towns such as Waimate and Geraldine inevitably recall British photographer Martin Parr's Boring Postcards books. Nevertheless, in the very mundaneness of these images of provincial towns, there is a degree of realism which makes them all the more authentic and appealing.

Gladys Goodall (photographed by Maree Henry, 2001)

Gladys Goodall Q.S.M., J.P. retired in 1980, continuing to drive her car and remaining active with the Age Concern Canterbury organisation until the age of 91. The centenarian now lives at Avonhead, a quiet dormitory suburb of Christchurch. "There comes an end to things. I felt that I had given everything I had, I'd photographed everything I could think of."

Commemorative Postcard

1 comment:

trudy said...

Hello there. I have a Gladys Goodall postcard taken in Wanaka fromexactly the same position my shop is now in, looking down Ardmore St to the lake. I would absolutely love to get hold of the negative or something, to have it enlarged . It is very poignant. Is there any way I can get in touch with Mrs Goodall that you know of ? Or whomever takes care of her work ? My email address is trudypilbrow@gmail.com and my phone number is 021 303 519.
Many thanks, Trudy