Bellinghausen's Lost Hawaii
Amazing 19th-century images of Hawaii have surfaced from a monk’s collection of plate-glass-negative photos.
Photos: Courtesy Chaminade University
Brother Gabriel Bertram Bellinghausen took nearly 2,000 photographs in Hawaii between 1883 and 1905. He used an 8-by-10 camera box and fragile glass photographic plates to capture images, and his photos have surprising clarity. Bellinghausen, who came to Hawaii as the first principal of Saint Louis College (now Saint Louis School), photographed his fellow brothers, the students, the landscape, the people, special events, and the monarchy—some members with whom he reportedly had close ties, such as King David Kalakaua.
Now, you can get a glimpse of Bellinghausen’s lost Hawaii. His photos will be on display in a traveling exhibit to show on Maui in late December and the Big Island in February (and possibly the Smithsonian in June), and in an ongoing exhibit at Chaminade University in Sullivan Library. Dr. Albert Lum, professor emeritus at Chaminade University, is curating the exhibits and describes the ongoing research process as “detective work.”
Because not all the photographs Bellinghausen took are accredited to him, and not all the photographs are marked with the location and event (let alone the people), Dr. Lum is “reading the photograph:” he looks at the style of the photograph and the people pictured in it, among other clues, as ways to determine whether the photo is one of Bellinghausen’s and where it might fit in a timeline of events. Most of the people featured in the photos are unidentified. “I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘Oh, that’s my grandmother’,” says Lum, indicating a favorite photo that’s framed and sitting on his desk. He smiles and offers a possible caption: “‘Whose tutu is this?’”
Once Chaminade Associate Provost Henry Gomes and his staff finish transcribing Bellinghausen’s diary (which reads like a captain’s log and is written in minute cursive), Lum plans to use the transcription as another source of clues and include portions of it in the traveling exhibit. The transcription will also become part of the Bellinghausen archive collection at Chaminade.
Bellinghausen liked to play with trick photography (one of his photos features a double of the same man) and had a sense of staging. “A lot of his pictures are blocked,” says Lum, adding that one of the subjects Bellinghausen taught was drama. But mainly his photos show Hawaii and its people as they were.
Traveling exhibit info
Maui: (808) 325-5327; Big Island: (808) 281-7562