“The Moral of these Pictures:” New Zealand’s Early Urban Reform Movements in Lantern Lectures

Dunham, Laura

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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One of the threads linking together the early twentieth-century urban reform movements of city beautifying, garden city/suburb and town planning is the use of lantern slides and their ubiquitous projection device, the magic lantern. Along with newspapers, pamphlets and posters, lantern slides were an essential tool across each of these movements, presenting and framing the objectives promoted by their enthusiastic leaders and enabling the broad dissemination of their ideas via images projected to audiences in public lectures. Yet our understanding of how lantern media operated in these contexts has been restricted by the lack of extant lantern slide collections and a long-standing view of the medium’s redundancy compared to newer forms of projection media. Histories of how these campaigns were promoted in New Zealand are dominated by personalities such as Charles C. Reade, William R. Davidge and Samuel Hurst Seager, who are known to have frequently employed lantern slides for public lectures. However, the lantern lecture was utilised by a number of other figures and groups with common interests in these interrelated attempts to improve New Zealand’s urban landscape. Lantern lectures engendered, and were evidence of, the intersections of ideas, meanings and relationships between audiences, politicians, architects, planners and other advocates from beyond these professions, such as Reade, who held sway over the Australasian town planning movement for many years. Looking at three lantern lectures between 1913 and 1923, this paper traces the effectiveness of the magic lantern medium and its traditions in facilitating the translation and adaptation of progressive ideas in New Zealand’s urban landscape.