Photographing a house for a nation: Time lapses 1920s style
When gazing at an iconic building it is easy to imagine that it sprang from the earth fully formed or was handed down by a Monty Pythonesque ‘hand of God’. But all great buildings have a messy, unfinished construction stage and nowadays we can document their gestation and growth with mesmerising time lapses. Unconvinced? Google ‘construction time lapse’.
In 1920s Canberra we didn’t have time lapse photography. We had William Mildenhall. In 1926 Mildenhall was appointed official photographer and information officer of the Federal Capital Commission, the body formed to oversee the development of Canberra. Mildenhall took his role seriously. For over a decade he toted his camera and heavy glass plate negatives all over the fledging capital city and, importantly for us here at Old Parliament House, he took hundreds of photographs of the construction of provisional Parliament House. Exterior shots, interior shots, long views, close ups, looking down from the roof, looking up to the roof, earthworks, scaffolding, pulleys, ladders, sheds, building materials, the railway line from Yarralumla and Kingston, vehicles, builders and draught animals—all captured for posterity.
A selection of these beautiful and evocative photographs are now on display in our new exhibition Building History. The centrepieces of the exhibition are the detailed 1927 and 1988 scale models of the building and the Mildenhall’s complement them beautifully. We are also very fortunate to have on display a set of well-worn hand tools that belonged to Carl Cooke, an apprentice carpenter. Just one of the many people who built this history.
Come into the museum and imagine the growth of the building from the turning of the first sod in 1923 to the finished building in 1927 with the aid of William Mildenhall’s time lapse photographs, two great models, a lovely set of hand tools and your intrepid imagination.