Australian Women's Register

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Moore, Mina Louise (1882 - 1957)

Born
6 October 1882
Wanui, New Zealand
Died
30 January 1957
Croydon, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Professional photographer
Alternative Names
  • Moore, Minnie Louise

Summary

Mina Moore was a successful photographer who worked initially in New Zealand and then in Sydney and Melbourne. Together with her sister the she specialised in portraits of prominent people and artists, including society/celebrity portraits, with some wedding and children's portraits. Mina Moore later set up her own studio in Melbourne and utilised unconventional backdrops, such as untreated hessian.

Details

Mina Moore was a highly successful photographer working in Melbourne, and like her sister, May Moore, she specialised in portraits of prominent people including those from the art world.

She was born on 6 October 1882 in Wainui, New Zealand, one of seven children (May being the eldest and Mina the second eldest daughter). Their father, Robert Walter Moore, was an English immigrant who was a timber cutter and farmer, and their mother was Sarah Jane, née Hellyer. The couple were not wealthy but were able to save enough money to purchase a small property in Wainui, a small farming settlement just north of Auckland, in which to settle and raise a family. Prior to this they had lived in various forestry camps.

Mina had no art school training but worked as a teacher in a country school, which was situated near their home. In 1907 she travelled to Australia, visiting Sydney and Melbourne, taking with her the Box Brownie camera that she had borrowed from a relative. During this trip her interest in photography was ignited. She later recalled her wonderment at being in a friend's darkroom in Footscray and seeing film being processed: 'I was tremendously interested. Five years later I returned to Melbourne and opened a photographic studio in the newly built J. & N. Tait Auditorium Buildings in Collins Street' (Australian Gallery Directors Council 23).

When Mina returned to New Zealand she did not return to her work as a teacher. Instead, she decided to pursue her interest in photography. At this time the Alexander Orr studio in Wellington was being sold and the two sisters bought it from him for £170, quite a large amount of money at the time. Prior to the Alexander Orr studio's departure, May was able to learn camera-handling skills from the staff and Mina learned the printing process, all in a space of six weeks.

Both sisters were deeply interested in theatre, and some of their early work was of 'costume studies' for theatre companies. Their first major assignment was photographing the entire cast of an American theatre company that was visiting New Zealand at the time.

In 1911 Mina joined May in Sydney. Much of the work they did here was co-signed 'May and Mina Moore,' and it has been suggested that the sisters may have had an agreement to share their success together. They went on to develop a distinctive style and a reputation for producing high quality portraiture. Initially, they could not afford to rent large, light-filled studio spaces with glass walls and roofs (as was the practice of at the time) and had to make do with the limited light available to them from windows. As Jack Cato explains, this resulted in photographs that 'were in low key, with a strong light on one side of the face and strong shadow on the other. It was the light Rembrandt used for his paintings and was particularly suitable for men' (Cato 130).

Mina moved to Melbourne in April 1913 and set up a studio of her own. It has been suggested that there may have been some conflict between the sisters, although May assisted Mina make the move (Australian Gallery Directors Council 23). She quickly established herself in Melbourne, initially knowing only the musician Fritz Hart and Mrs Hart. One of her early commissions was to photograph the members of the Quinlan Grand Opera Company. The studio she established did not utilise any props and her backdrops were made of untreated hessian, unlike the conventional painted backdrops that were popular at the time. Mina worked with a freelance female journalist in 1913, and utilised the relaxing environment of her studio to conduct interviews and photo sessions.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the War, both May and Mina produced hundreds of portraits of young soldiers before they set off for the battlefields in North Africa and Europe. Like her sister May, Mina would take the time to familiarise herself with her sitters, trying to put them at ease, a personal quality that helps account for the appeal of their photographs.

All of Mina's professional work was completed in studio settings and she was not known to photograph outdoors. Her last major commission involved the photographing of the Shell Oil Company's employees. She printed the photographs taken by interstate photographers of employees from their states, and compiled a single volume which was finally completed in 1927.

On 20 December 1916 she married William Tainsh, a poet and executive of an oil company. In 1918 she gave birth to her first child (she had three children in total). Although her interest in photography had not abated, her family's needs took precedence and she decided to devote herself to bringing up her children. She later said of her decision: 'I had to choose between caring for a baby daughter and paying someone else to do so while I went to business ….' (Australian Gallery Directors Council 24), and so it was that in she sold her Melbourne studio to the Melbourne photographer Ruth Hollick.

Mina and her family moved to Warrandyte later that year and she established friendships with the artists Clara Southern, Jo Sweatman, Penleigh Boyd and Jessie Traill. They moved again in 1922 to Croydon and it was here on 30 January 1957 that Mina eventually died aged 75.

Collections

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery of South Australia
Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne
La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria
Macleay Photograph Collection, Macleay Museum Collection, NSW
The Shaw Research Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria
National Gallery of Australia

Events

Exhibition - Mina Moore exhibited her painted miniatures at the NSW Society of Women Painters. Location: Sydney, NSW.
1907
Exhibition - Mina Moore featured in New Zealand International Exhibition. Location: Christchurch, New Zealand.
c. 1911 - 1927
Was active as a professional photographer. Location: New Zealand, Sydney and Melbourne.
1981
Exhibition - Mina Moore featured in Australian Women Photographers 1840-1950. Location: George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne
1996
Exhibition - Mina Moore was featured in The Reflecting Eye: Portraits of Australian Visual Artists. Location: National Portrait Gallery travelling exhibition.

Sources used to compile this entry: Australian Women Photographers 1840-1950, George Paton Gallery, Parkville, Vic, 1981; Cato, Jack, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Institute of Australian Photography, Melbourne, 1979.

Related entries

Contemporary

Sister

  • Moore, May (1881 - 1931)

    Mina and May Moore were both professional photographers and collaborated with each other for part of their professional ives.

Archival resources

National Gallery of Australia Research Library

  • May Moore: Australian and New Zealand Art Files; National Gallery of Australia Research Library. Details

National Library of Australia, Manuscript Section

Anne Maxwell (with Morfia Grondas and Lucy Van)

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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