John Robert Hanna was born to Eliza Crawford and Robert Hanna in Drum, County Monaghan, Ireland in 1850. Shortly thereafter, the senior Hanna was advised for health reasons to move his large brood of 11 children to New Zealand. In 1865, the family boarded the ship Ganges and departed from the Irish port of Queenstown (known as Cobh since the late 1920s) aboard the clipper Ganges on November 4, 1864. They arrived in Auckland on February 14, 1865. By 1873, Mr. Hanna was working at photographer Robert Henry Bartlett's Auckland studio. Within two years, he entered into a partnership with Charles Hemus, and for the next decade, the duo opened a successful portrait gallery on Queen Street.
Mr. Hanna married Alice Elizabeth Williamson on October 29, 1879, and dissolved his business with Mr. Hemus six years' later. He purchased the Clarke Bros. studio in June 1885, located on Queen Street. His new business quickly became known for his miniature holiday photographs, which could be printed inexpensively to customize Christmas and New Year cards. His portrait miniatures, comparable in size to a postage stamp, were easily mounted on cards, further distinguished themselves by their impressive detail and superior craftsmanship. As commercial success grew, Mr. Hanna could afford to make extensive renovations. With its sleek design, exquisite lighting, and excellent ventilation, his studio was transformed into the most lavish and modern facility in New Zealand. A large room for washing and toning photographs was added beneath the studio, and a large sliding sash on the studio's south side could be manipulated easily to take drop-shutter photographs of children. On the first and second floors were enameling and printing rooms, along with a negative storage area. The printing room had two north-facing sliding sashes and a large projection window that allowed for wet weather printing. The studio was described in an October 1889 issue of Auckland Star as being "as near perfection as possible."
In 1891, Mr. Hanna was elected as a vice president of the Auckland Photographic Club, and that same year won a bronze medal at the Washington Exhibition of the Photographers Association of America. Shortly thereafter, he was featured in an article in Wilson's Photographic Magazine, in which he was described as "a a studious, thoughtful artist, able to cope with all the varieties of subject which come to him. In the arrangement of the lines, in the disposition of the hands, very particularly, and in the lighting he is governed by art principles all through, as anyone can see. His results are also technically good, and many useful lessons are to be had." Because of his growing international stature, Mr. Hanna was the photographer of choice to photograph New Zealand's most prominent citizens. His prints on "three stars" albumenized paper featured subtle over-toning, and were quickly matted with finely-ground pumice powder. Mr. Hanna sought to please his elite clientele while satisfying his own artistic inclinations, and succeeded in achieving both objectives. A bout of ill health forced him into retirement, and after a long illness, 65-year-old John Robert Hanna died at his home in Ellerslie. He is buried at Auckland's Waikaraka Cemetery.
1889 Auckland Star, Vol. XX, (Auckland, NZ: Office of the Auckland Star), p. 4.
2012 Early New Zealand Photographers and Their Successors: Hanna, John Robert by Tony Rackstraw (URL: http://canterburyphotography.blogspot.com/2012/01/hanna.html).
2014 Early New Zealand Photographers and Their Successors (URL: http://canterburyphotography.blogspot.com/2012/01/hemus-hanna.html).
1894 The Photogram, Vol. I (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), pp. 110-112.
1891 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXVIII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 213.
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