Friday, 16 October 2015

Tauranga Photographers: Charles Henry Harris (1862-1907)

Unidentified young men, c.1894
Cabinet card portrait by C.H. Harris of Tauranga (formerly of Gisborne)
Image courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
This cabinet card is one of many unidentified shots in the Bran Watkins House Collection. When these fine young Scots lads posed in all their band uniforms and instruments (pipes, horn and drum) in a makeshift studio, Tauranga's new photographer Charles Henry Harris was probably not long arrived in the town. The slapdash manner in which the painted backdrop, a dark, floral-patterned bolt of fabric and three small carpets have been thrown together is more characteristic of a travelling photographer's temporary studio than of permanent premises.

Reverse of cabinet card mount, Marion Imp. Paris, Regd no. 41 057, c.1892-1893
Image courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
The card mount is of a European design by Marion, Imp. Paris that is described by Roger Vaughan on Victorian Photograph Printers as "Reclining lady," registered as number 41,057, probably in 1892-1893.  It shows the photographer as C.H. Morris of Gisborne, N.Z. and it seems very likely that he used up old stock for the first few weeks of his stay in Tauranga before ordering more cards with his new address.

Advertisement, The Bay of Plenty Times, 20 April 1894
Image courtesy of Papers Past
Charles Harris arrived in Tauranga in early 1894, his first advertisement appearing in The Bay of Plenty Times newspaper on 20 April 1894, and an associated article describing him as "re-opening" the Strand gallery adjacent to Mr Allely's, Chemist, hoping that "he will no doubt secure plenty of patronage."  It is likely that this studio was in premises originally set up and operated by Charles Spencer (from 1879-1890) and then briefly occupied by F..E. Stewart (from 1890-1892) and the Kirton Brothers (1893).

Unidentified wedding couple, c.1896-1902
Cabinet card portrait by C.H. Harris of Tauranga & Opotiki
Image courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
Harris had commenced working in Gisborne two years earlier (Poverty Bay Herald, 11 March 1892), but he was already thirty years old by then, and it seems likely that he had served an apprenticeship with another photographer prior to that date.  By the late 1890s, when this wedding portrait was taken, he was already fairly accomplished, coping well with the harsh reflections of sunlight from the white wedding dress.  With a regular supply of customers from the stable, if not expanding, population of Tauranga his studio looked a lot more polished too, with the addition of some fine tasselled and fringed posing chairs and even a pot plant or two.

Unidentified couple, c.1894-1898
Cabinet card portrait by C.H. Harris of Tauranga & Opotiki
Image courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
By this time Harris had also ventured further afield, and was taking portraits in Paeroa (1896), Opotiki (1897-1898) and Waipukurau (1898, 1902) (Auckland City Library Photographers Database), although it seems unlikely that he established anything more than a visiting presence in those tiny settlements.  Competition arrived in early 1897, in the form of experienced Masterton photographer T.E. Price, and it is possible that Harris' studio work in Tauranga declined, or even ceased altogether, after this date.

Headstone of "Charles the beloved husband of Annie Harris," died 28th Sept. 1907, aged 45 years
Anglican Cemetery, Grace Road/17th Avenue, Tauranga
Photograph © 2015 Brett Payne

Tauranga photographer Charles Henry Harris died in 1907, aged only 45, and lies buried in the Anglican Cemetery on the corner of Grace Road/17th Avenue.  It is unknown, at least by the author, whether he and his wife Annie had any children, but it is presumed that he left a lasting presence in the form of many fine portraits carrying his stamp in family photo albums throughout the Bay of Plenty.

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