The landscape photography of Thomas Pringle

Thomas Pringle produced some of the earliest known landscape photographs of New Zealand, many of which still embody the country in the popular imagination of the world. Like many New Zealander’s of the late 19th Century, Pringle was not born in the country. He emigrated as a young man and initially began a career as an engraver. However, the newly emerging art of photography captured his interest, and he soon became an accomplished photographer.

Pringle’s decision to focus on landscape photography means that many of his works have a timeless quality. Apart from the lack of colour, many of his photographs could easily be mistaken for modern pieces. The techniques that many modern photographers use were still evolving back when Pringle took his first photos. Therefore, while the techniques and set ups that he used in his photos may look fairly commonplace to modern eyes, they were actually fairly groundbreaking back at the time when they were taken.

The photos were also critical in establishing New Zealand in the popular imagination of people back in the UK. Immigration to New Zealand became particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly from Scotland. It was images like those of Pringle, which showed the similarities between Scottish and New Zealand’s landscapes that helped to sell the idea of moving to a land that was at least six weeks travel by a fairly choppy sea voyage. Nevertheless, the images taken by Pringle and others that came back to the UK were one of the things that’s helped to encourage so many people to give up their life back in Scotland, and start a new life as a kiwi.

Despite the impact that he made on the photography scene, and interest in New Zealand in general, Thomas Pringle did not live a particularly long life. As was common at the time, he died in his mid-40s. His passing was met with much regret from the community he had built around him in New Zealand, and those who knew him back in his native Scotland. Photography only grew in importance for professionals and amateur photographers alike, in the years following his death. Consequently, regard for Pringle has only increased in the years since that time. The equipment that Pringle had access to during his life was relatively basic, and the results that he managed to achieve using such primitive equipment were fairly remarkable.

Even more surprising, considering the laborious darkroom processes that were necessary to develop photos at the time, is that the photos he produced are of such good quality and have survived to this day. Photography has become a relatively throwaway commodity in today’s world of digital cameras and selfies, and it can be all too easy to forget just how much effort went into one of Thomas Pringle’s wonderful landscape photos. That is why it is worth stopping to remember the work that Pringle and other landscape photgraphers made to popularise the medium, and make it what it is today.