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Thursday, March 10, 2011


Memories emerge out of earthquake mess

Last updated 05:00 11/03/2011
Boxes of priceless photographs tumbled to the floor of a Christchurch garage in the February 22 earthquake. Viewing them raised Mary Browne's sunken spirits.

Metal shelving in Browne's Linwood garage contained dozens of boxes and thousands of photographs that her father-in-law, Victor Browne, took from aircraft in the middle decades of last century.

Victor Browne, although not a pilot, was a pioneer in aerial photography. He took nearly 27,000 photographs from the air from the late 1920s to the 1970s.

His daughter-in-law said he was a loner who neither smoked nor drank but was passionate about photography.

Rural New Zealanders growing up in the 1950s and 60s will remember colour photographs of farm homesteads, signed "VC Browne", hanging on their walls.

Much of Browne's income was from such commissions from farmers.

Browne's earlier works, in black and white, included cityscapes and images from the back country. A lake and a waterfall he discovered in flights over Fiordland were named after him.

His Dyers Pass Rd house was his Christchurch home and workshop. After he died, his son Bill stored many of the boxes in his Linwood garage.

Fearing the photos would be lost to posterity, Bill and Mary Browne's son-in-law, Roger Barclay, had the negatives digitally archived.

Mary Browne said she felt honoured to become a guardian of the photos.

While it was a shock to open the garage door and find the twisted remains of metal shelving on the floor and boxes strewn everywhere, she found comfort browsing through images of a Christchurch she remembers well – Cathedral Square with heritage buildings on all corners, a city centre with no structure above five storeys, and Lancaster Park packed with rugby fans.

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