ISN’T it interesting how contemporary events shape how we view the past?
When I first encountered this photograph, my interest was largely in its artistic and technical qualities. But recently it led me down a completely different rabbit hole which felt oddly relevant in the aftermath of a national lockdown.
Titled The Visitor, the photograph depicts an older woman (recently identified as Mary Dundas) standing along a path near an open door. But when you look beyond the subject, the photograph brings to light part of the long legacy clubs and community organisations have played in enriching the lives of Southland residents.
The man behind the camera was Invercargill lawyer and avid photographer Arnold Morrell Macdonald.
Macdonald is best remembered today for championing Pictorialism, a photographic style which focused on the beauty of subject matter, tonality and composition rather than on creating a visual record.
He exhibited widely on the national stage, with The Visitor forming part of his submission to the second New Zealand Interclub photographic competition which toured six venues in 1920.
Macdonald’s impact on the local community, however, centred on his role in the Southland Camera Club.
Founded in 1893, the club provided Invercargill residents the opportunity to come together to develop their photographic skills by attending lectures and demonstrations, and taking part in field trips and exhibitions.
A notable feature of the monthly meetings was a competition series which invited members to try their hand at a different subject or lighting effect and showcase the results. Macdonald was not only an active participant in all of these areas, but was a key instigator and organiser.
One community initiative which stands out in the organisation’s history was its participation in the Snapshots-from-home League, which provided soldiers heading off to fight in World War I with photographs of friends and relatives free of charge.
When so many clubs and organisations are dealing with the challenges posed by Covid-19, the rich history of the Southland Camera Club seems an apt reminder of the valuable role the club has long played in bringing people together around a shared interest, and in doing so, building and strengthening a sense of community.