Hardwicke Knight is a photographer and historian of photography who has made a great contribution to documenting New Zealand's history, especially that of the Otago area.
Born in England in 1911, he can recall the First World War, in particular an aerial dogfight over London, as well as a Zeppelin bursting into flames.
In the late 1920s Knight went to Paris. There he mingled with artists, painted watercolours, and conducted tours for American tourists to historic battlefields. He travelled extensively around Europe, working as a photographer for a French archaeological expedition in Greece, photographing churches in Spain, and ending up as a photojournalist in Moscow during the Stalinist purges.
At the beginning of the Second World War Knight was a conscientious objector but was seconded to the emergency medical services. During this time he worked for the medical photography unit under the celebrated New Zealand surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies. Knight was chief photographer for the Plastic Surgery Unit from 1942-47 and the following year was appointed director of Medical Photography at Enfield Group Hospitals in England. In 1957 he immigrated to New Zealand and took up a position at the Otago Medical School as head of the Medical Photography Department.
In Dunedin Knight helped to develop fluoroscein angiography, an important technique for diagnosing eye conditions. In 1965 he was elected president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Photographers.
Knight maintained a strong interest in historical photography, and in 1974 published his first book, Dunedin Then. In 1977, following the publication of a second book on historic Dunedin, Princes Street by Gaslight, he was invited to become a member of the International Advisory Panel on the History of Photography.
Knight also has a keen interest in both watercolour painting and printing, owning a 'printers chapel' at the back of his property on the Otago Peninsula. This 'chapel' contains a hand-operated press, which enables him to print the title pages to his books.
Since retiring from his position at the Otago Medical School, Knight has devoted himself full-time to the collection and documentation of local histories. Old photographs fascinate him as 'they were so much more explicit than the words and so much more truthful as well. Words were so often expressing an individual's nostalgic feelings about an area, whereas the photograph stands aloof from that. It's the nearest thing to the truth which one can surely obtain' (1).
During the 1980s Knight chronicled the stories of famous photographers such as the Burton Brothers, as well as the history of the Otago region. A limited edition of his own work - Hardwicke Knight. Photographer - was published in 1983.
In 1991 The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa acquired the Hardwicke Knight collection of photographs, albums, antique cameras and books. This unique collection contains about 20,000 items.
Hardwicke Knight continues to live and work from his home on the Otago Peninsula. 'One of the things I've wanted to do', he says, 'is show people that New Zealand is an old country with much in its past which is worth preserving' (2).
(1) Thompson, Paul. (1993). Hardwicke Knight: a book, a setting, a cell, a life. A story of the author's contact with Hardwicke and Molly Knight. Journal of Photography. 12: August. pp 4-5. (2) Eggleton, David. (1997). Photographic Memories. New Zealand Listener 2 August. p 39.
Some of the following publications may be found on the Discovery Centre bookshelves, or in Te Aka Matua Library and Information Centre on Level 4. Photographs of Te Papa collection items may be ordered from Images, on Level 4.
Eggleton, David. (1997). Photographic Memories. New Zealand Listener.
Lambert, Max. editor. (1991). Frederic Hardwicke Knight in New Zealand Who's Who, 12th edition. Auckland: Octopus.
Thompson, Paul. (1993). Hardwicke Knight: a book, a setting, a cell, a life. A story of the author's contact with Hardwicke and Molly Knight. Journal of Photography 12. August.
Hardwicke Knight at his home in Broad Bay, 1993 photographed by Gerard O'Brien
Paint for your supper
While probably best known as a photographer and historian of photography, Hardwicke Knight is also an accomplished watercolour painter. He feels painting is complementary to his photography. 'In photography he aims to record nature whereas in painting he aims to express his feelings about his subject.' (1).
Knight was able to support himself for a time during the Depression by drawing. When he was living in southern Ireland, he used to sketch grand houses, and at about lunchtime would present the drawing at the servants' entrance and ask the owners if they would like to buy it. According to Knight, at the very least he would get a good lunch.
(1) Smith, Charmian. (1993). Water-colours Without Fuss. Otago Daily Times 21 December.