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Kathleen Stringer with a selection of the photographs.

By John Keast

They stare from the past, and these faces – children, soldiers, women, pets – were nearly lost.

Now, 760 portraits salvaged from glass plate negatives under a shed in Ashburton form a major exhibition in the Murney Room at the Ashburton Museum.

It is open now and will be on for six to eight weeks.

It is Snap! The Glass Plate Negative Project – and the subjects dating from the 1880s to the 1920s are from Ashburton.

Some have been identified, most have not.

Saving and transferring the images to digital files has been a major exercise.

The images are from a collection of glass plate negatives found under a shed being demolished in Ashburton, and the sur

glass plate

face of the plates were very fragile, with photographic emulsion held in gelatine.

They were found in two banana boxes – and the boxes were almost rotted.

Museum staff rescued the images by carefully prising each apart, scanning the image into a digital format and hanging them.

Much of the work was done by museum archivist Kathleen Stringer.

She said the photographs were taken by photographers who worked from the old Saunders Buildings, now the site of the Countdown car park in East Street.

The first photographer was Charles Martin and the last Charles Tindall. Most are from the Halma Studio.

“They were in clumps and I had to use a palette knife to prise them apart.

“It’s been really exciting as you didn’t know if you would get a viable image,” she said.

Museum director Tanya Robinson said some photographs were identified as being members of the market garden Ng/King family.

Early in the project some were put on the museum’s Facebook page, and brought a big response.

Museum staff have names for about 5 per cent of the photographs but hope visitors will help with the rest.

Mrs Robinson said: “What makes them special is the details of the people are extraordinary and show the photographer had a real warmth towards the sitters – their poses are not stiff like lots of images from this time, and the collection as a whole really brings to life Ashburtonians of the time. A few are named, some are of people locals have identified for us.”

Some of the photographs will also be projected on to a wall, and copies of the photographs are available (at a small cost).