Through Shaded Glass: Women and photography in Aotearoa New Zealand 1860–1960

Shining the light on New Zealand’s women photographers.

By Lissa Mitchell

Publication date: June 2023
NZ RRP (incl. GST): $75
Extent: 368 pages
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-9951384-9-0

Buy Through Shaded Glass:

The contribution of women to the first century of photography has been overlooked across the world, including in New Zealand. With few exceptions, photographic histories have tended to focus on the male maker.

This important book tilts the balance, unearthing a large and hitherto unknown number of women photographers, both professional and amateur, who operated in New Zealand from the 1860s to 1960, either as assistants in the early studios or later running studios in their own right.

It takes the reader on a journey through the backrooms of nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographic studios, into private homes, out onto the street and up into the mountains, and looks at the range of photographic practices in which women were involved. Through superb images and fascinating individual stories, it brings an important group of photographers into the light.

Look inside Through Shaded Glass


Review highlights

  • The Spinoff, Claire Mabey: “Lissa Mitchell’s Through Shaded Glass was similarly revelatory: unearthing women from the confines of archives and letting their work speak (you can read an excerpt on The Spinoff here).”

  • Landfall, reviewed by Mary Macpherson. “A lavishly-illustrated blockbuster of a book that reveals a whole world of women active at every level of photography … At a deeper level, these images … give us part of the history of our country across the centuries. It’s difficult not to be moved by this, and the book deserves to fly high at the next Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.”

  • Aotearoa New Zealand Review of Books, reviewed by Hamish Coney. “Mitchell’s decade of research has unearthed a wealth of wonderful images created by women in Aotearoa, and provided a powerful narrative that reveals their creators’ lives and motivations. Through Shaded Glass is both a corrective and a celebration, and will no doubt create a legacy in its own right, as a point of departure for future scholarship.”

  • NZ Booklovers, reviewed by Lyn Potter. “Lissa Mitchell has skilfully and successfully filled a gap in the history of women’s participation in photography in the Western world. She has amply succeeded in her aim of showing that in New Zealand, women from 1860-1960 did have access to photographic equipment and used it in all sorts of ways. … She is a very erudite photography historian but has written Through Shaded Glass in a very engaging and accessible way for the general reader. I found it unputdownable.”

  • The Post (premium content), reviewed by Mark Amery. “Through Shaded Glass impresses in providing a different window on our past than the other photographic history books on my shelves.”

  • Kete Books, reviewed by Jessica Agoston Cleary. “As one of Aotearoa’s most knowledgeable and experienced photographic historians, there is no one better than Lissa Mitchell to research, distill and re-contextualise the photographic history of our country … It is a whirlwind tour and it is well worth it.”

  • New Zealand Geographic, reviewed by Catherine Woulfe. “Mitchell’s text validates the various ways women participated in photography … her own mastery is clear on each page.”

  • Gisborne Herald (premium content), review by Wynsley Wrigley of the chapter on Gisborne photographers. “Gloriously illustrated publication … fascinating book.”

Author interviews

About the author

Lissa Mitchell is curator of historical photography at Te Papa and has held previous roles in photographic collection management and preventive photographic conservation roles at the New Zealand Film Archive (now part of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision) and the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. She has a degree in art history from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. Prior to a career in photographic history, Mitchell was an experimental filmmaker.