Pictures of a long-lost mining life

From Saturday Morning, 10:07 am on 10 September 2016

Through the Eyes of a Miner: the Photography of Joseph Divis, explores the Czech miner and photographer's impressions of life in a New Zealand mining town in the first part of the 20th century.

He documented the life of people above and underground in Blackball, Waiuta and Waihi between 1909 and 1935.

Divis was from Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, but much of his subsequent life remains a mystery. Although we know he settled and died in Waiuta in 1967.

Simon Nathan, has just released the second edition of his illustrated biography of Divis.

Simon first became interested in Divis seven years ago and says he was “entranced” when he first saw the man's work.

He has been able to track down many of the original plates.

There was a major collection left in Divis’s house after he died in 1967 and when the house was being cleared out about 20 years later they came to light.

They were all on contact sheets and Simon was able to scan and then reproduce them in their full monochromatic glory.

“The pictures produced in the book are better than anything he saw himself,” he says.

Divis appears in many himself using a timing device to as a kind of contemporary selfie stick.

Waiuta had a population of 550 at its peak in the 1930s, when its economy benefited from the high price of gold. But by the 1950s was pretty much a ghost town.

Dapper, artistic and something of an outsider, Divis had a hard life.

He was injured in a rock fall accident and was interred during World War II. But he left behind a fascinating social history of a life long gone.