Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Moore, Annie May (1881–1931)

by Barbara Hall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with Minnie Louise Moore

Annie May Moore (1881-1931), by unknown photographer, 1900-15

Annie May Moore (1881-1931), by unknown photographer, 1900-15

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38782/749

Annie May Moore (1881-1931) and Minnie Louise Moore (1882-1957), photographers, were born on 4 January 1881 and on 6 October 1882 at Wainui, New Zealand, eldest and second daughters of English-born Robert Walter Moore, sawyer and farmer, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Hellyer, a New Zealander. May studied at the Elam School of Art and Design, Auckland, and in 1906-07 sold pencil and ink sketches at the New Zealand International Exhibition at Christchurch. Moving to Wellington, she painted oil portraits in a rented studio in Willis Street.

Mina, as Minnie was known, was a schoolteacher and had no artistic training. She became interested in photography while developing pictures she took with a borrowed camera on a visit to Australia in 1907. On her return to Wellington the sisters bought the Willis Street studio, and before the old staff left May learned camera work, and Mina printing. They quickly developed a distinctive style of close-up-head studio portraiture, the only light coming from an open window to shine on one side of the face. They pioneered sepia tonings, bromide paper and limp mounting-boards. Avoiding the prevalent 'stodgy backgrounds and stiff accessories', they chose a simple hessian or cloth back-drop. Avid theatre-goers, they specialized in costume studies of visiting companies. Both believed that in good portrait photography it was essential to put the sitter at ease and to gain 'some insight into his character'. In 1909 the Sydney-based Australasian Photo Review reproduced the first of many May Moore portraits.

In 1910, when May was visiting Sydney, friends arranged a temporary studio for her in the Bulletin building, and Livingston Hopkins, David Low and the Lindsays were among her first sitters. In 1911 she opened a studio in George Street, and later moved to King Street.

Mina managed the Wellington studio and began operating camera until she joined May in Sydney in 1911. In 1913 the sisters opened a studio in J. and N. Tait's auditorium in Collins Street, Melbourne, for Mina to manage. She concentrated on theatrical studies, including the entire Quinlan Grand Opera Company, and she soon had a large clientele. She worked with a freelance woman journalist for a time, combining interview and portrait sessions.

The sisters' photographs of actors, musicians, writers and artists were published in such magazines as the Home, Lone Hand and Triad; they were often co-signed, although for all but two years they ran separate studios in different cities. In World War I they turned their attention to taking portraits of uniformed servicemen; they prospered and became household names. At St Philip's Church, Sydney, May married a dentist Henry Hammon Wilkes on 13 July 1915. He gave up his practice to help in her studio. Mina married William Alexander Tainsh, company secretary and poet, on 20 December 1916 in Melbourne.

May was a handsome, assured woman, humorous and direct. Six feet (183 cm) tall, she had a strong stride and wore loose, flowing dresses. She was 'determined, sink or swim', to put her ideas into practice. She employed only women, except in the dark-room, and encouraged others to enter the profession. Illness forced her to retire about 1928, but she continued to paint landscapes. She was a member of the Society of Women Painters, Sydney, the Professional Photographers' Association of Australia, the Musical Association of New South Wales and the Lyceum Club, and reputedly became a Christian Scientist. She was survived by her husband—they had no children—when she died of cancer at her Pittwater home on 10 June 1931; she was buried in the Anglican section of Manly cemetery. Six months later the Lyceum Club held a memorial exhibition of her portraits.

Mina retired from business after the birth of her first child in 1918, although she was tempted to return after photographing for, and directing, a presentation book for the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd in 1927. She found, however, that 'family calls' were too strong. Except for 1918-22 in Sydney, they lived in or near Melbourne. Mina's friends included the artists Clara Southern, Jessie Traill and Jo Sweatman. She died at Croydon on 30 January 1957 and was cremated. Her husband, son and two daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia (Melb, 1955)
  • B. Hall et al, Australian Women Photographers, 1890-1950 exhibition catalogue (Melb, 1981)
  • Harrington's Photographic Journal, 22 Oct 1910, 22 Feb 1911
  • Australasian Photo-Review, 22 June 1911
  • Austral Briton, 5, 12 Feb 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Dec 1930, 17 June 1931
  • Australian Worker, 24 June 1931.

Citation details

Barbara Hall, 'Moore, Annie May (1881–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moore-annie-may-7631/text13341, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Annie May Moore (1881-1931), by unknown photographer, 1900-15

Annie May Moore (1881-1931), by unknown photographer, 1900-15

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38782/749