Moore was a New Zealand born photographer who worked with her sister Mina, as Minnie as she was known Mina 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 toned, bromide paper and limp mounting-boards. Avoiding the prevalent ‘stodgy backgrounds and stiff accessories’, they chose a simple hessian or cloth back-drop. 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.
Illness forced her to retire in about 1928.
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