In 1917, the NZ Truth newspaper described Whanganui photographer Frank Denton as a "camera fiend".

The short, anonymous poem went on to claim that Denton "took to the art the day he was weaned" and produced the "prettiest pictures that ever were screened".

Although the poem exaggerates, Sarjeant Gallery curator of collections Jennifer Taylor Moore can confirm that Denton's interest in photography began early in his life as he was a member of the Wellington Camera Club at a young age.

"He suffered a fairly serious back injury as a young man and went to stay with relatives in Waikaraka [Northland] to convalesce.


"He took a lot of photographs during his fairly long stay there and decided to make photography his profession."

Born in Wellington as the fifth child in a family of 11 in 1869, Denton worked as a highly successful commercial photographer in Whanganui from 1899 until 1927, buying his first studio from Alfred Martin.

"He had studios in a number of locations," Taylor Moore said.

"One was where Cactus Creme Cafe now stands and another was where the Kathmandu store is."

Taylor Moore gave a recent talk on Denton's work at Sarjeant on the Quay.

"Around 35 people came along and a number of them have family portraits that were taken by Denton.

"Two of his great-nieces attended and they brought along some family photo albums."

When the Sarjeant Gallery opened in 1919, Mayor Charles Mackay commissioned Denton to curate an international collection of art photography to form part of the new gallery's collection.


"He was one of the first New Zealanders to practise photography as an art form and his pictorial photography gives us stunning images of Whanganui during the era.

"It was a time of rapid growth when the town became a city and there was so much happening."

Included in the Sarjeant collection is a series of untitled images showing Whanganui in flood during the 1920s.

Denton's photographic exhibition opened at the Sarjeant Gallery in 1926 with more than 170 images gathered from around the world.

He donated 83 of the photographs to the Sarjeant Gallery collection, making it the first gallery in New Zealand to seriously collect photography.

Some of the Denton photographs will be included in the Sarjeant's Turn of a Century exhibition opening on September 7.

Alongside his pictorial and commercial work, Denton took many photographs of his own family.

One untitled photograph captured a woman and a little girl feeding three lambs.

It has been remounted for the Sarjeant's Turn of a Century exhibition. Taylor Moore said the photograph is on loan from a private collection and the girl has been identified as Denton's daughter Mary.

Denton's self-portrait titled Carte de Visite of F.J. Denton, taken in 1900, reveals a dapper young man with a most luxuriant moustache.

Frank Denton was an eminent Whanganui commercial photographer as well as a pioneering pictorial lensman.
Frank Denton was an eminent Whanganui commercial photographer as well as a pioneering pictorial lensman.

He retired from commercial photography in 1927 and resided in Liverpool St, Whanganui, until he died at age 93 in 1963. Denton is buried at Aramoho Cemetery.