Nils Pokel is excited about his first exhibition at the Nelson Provincial Museum which celebrates the Tyree photographic collection. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Vic Brewbar Banter Nils Pokel


Every few weeks, Nelson Weekly editor Charles Anderson sits down with someone interesting doing something interesting. This week we speak to Nils Pokel from the Nelson Provincial Museum about the next exhibition which opens on Friday. It promises to be an experiential extravaganza celebrating the work of Tyree Studio and offers an insight into the growth of Nelson.

Tell me about the collection
It’s over 150,000 glass plate photographs. They span close to a century of portrait and landscape photography in the region. A huge chunk of it has been added to the Unesco World Heritage register. It’s quite special as it’s a seamless anthology of the region. Because of some foresight of some clever people they decided to build a stronghold for it – all four tonnes of them. Then it was decided to digitise them to have it as a resource.

What sort of images are there?
We have tried to pick all the odd ones, the ones that are missed in the vast ocean of photographs. To a large extent it is just dumb luck to try and find these. There will be about 80 images in the show, a lot of those will rarely have even been shown. We are taking a bit of a risk and showing ones that might not usually be shown.

What have been some of the challenges?
The good thing, but sad thing, is there are probably much greater ones in the collection that haven’t been unearthed. The hardest thing is to make a cut – to decide which ones to keep in as there is so much treasure. There will be quirky ones, sad ones, happy ones to give people a real spectrum of the collection. People will have to come back a couple of times.

What can people expect from the exhibition?
We are trying to do a few things differently. We didn’t want it just to be black and white photos on a wall. This will be an experience that Nelsonians haven’t seen before. It will challenge perceptions of what a photography show can be. There are lots of experiments in there, its interactive with things to play with and uses everything from props and objects, digital experiments and light boxes as well as the photos themselves. We are using some really cool ideas and technology to tell this story.

Like what sort of things?
We have created an app which allows people to take a photo of themselves which then matches it to the closest photo in the collection. You don’t have to type anything and you will find your twin from history. It makes you feel a personal connection with these times in the past. It really uses some amazing technology behind the scenes to deliver it. You will also be able to chat with Mrs Higgins, who is an early settler. It’s built from a lot of material we know about her and Artificial Intelligence, and you can learn all about her life by messaging her on Facebook.

What do you hope people will get from the exhibition?
My hope is that these people were like us. On a human level they had the same aspiration when they take a photo – to look good, as a keepsake, for memories or to have fun. We think that those times were often stern and stiff like many of the photos, but they just weren’t. They were just as happy, cheeky and funny as we are now.