painter and professional photographer and professional photographer respectively, were born at Wainui, New Zealand on 4 January 1881 and 6 October 1882, the eldest and second daughters of the seven children of Robert Walter Moore, a sawyer and farmer, and Sarah Jane, née Hellyer. May studied at Elam School of Art and Design in about 1900 and was working as a portrait artist in Auckland from about 1904; in 1907 she sold pen and ink portrait sketches at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. Mina worked as a teacher in country schools. By 1908 May was established in Wellington as a portraitist, sub-letting studio space from another photographer. The sisters decided to buy him out for £170, a considerable sum at the time. May understood that to succeed at the upper end of the portrait photography market required stylish presentation, aesthetics and studio promotion. The Moore sisters introduced new bromide papers, fancy mounting and lighting, and quickly established a reputation for quality portraiture. May was always interested in the theatre, and many of the sisters’ studio portraits were of visual and performing artists. Once established, the Moore studio style varied little over the years. Based on head and shoulder studies with strong high side-lighting picking out half the face, plain dark backgrounds concentrated attention on the faces. Despite a largely uniform mood of seriousness or intensity, a strong sense of the sitter’s presence and individuality came through.
After about four years the sisters relocated to Australia. May visited Sydney in 1910 and worked from a space in the Bulletin building, where she photographed Livingston Hopkins , David Low , the Lindsays and other Bulletin artists. By June 1911 she had opened her first Sydney studio; May joined her that year. From 1912 to 1915 a studio in their joint names was listed at 416 George Street; the Moore’s portrait of Thea Proctor (AGNSW) is dated 1912. In 1913 they opened a Melbourne branch, which Mina managed, finding a studio in J. & N. Tait’s new Auditorium Building in Collins Street through their theatrical contacts. May operated alone from 418 George Street, Sydney, then from 139 King Street (c.1918-24). The New Zealand work appears to have been always issued under May’s name, but the Australian work usually had a joint stam
On 13 July 1915, May married Henry Hammon (Harry) Wilkes, a dentist with literary interests who later managed the studio. Mina married a poet and company executive, William Alexander Tainsh, on 20 December 1916 in Melbourne. They lived at Warrandyte, Victoria, where Mina established close friendships with a number of women artists including Clara Southern and Jo Sweatman . She sold the Melbourne studio to Ruth Hollick in about 1918, after the birth of the first of her three children. A late commission, in 1927, was a presentation book of photographs for the Shell Oil Company, where her husband worked.
May continued to use the joint stamp after Mina’s retirement and remained active until about 1928. One of her studio assistants in 1925 was Elizabeth Mahony . She also painted miniatures on ivory, which she exhibited with the NSW Society of Women Painters. She died prematurely of cancer on 10 June 1931, without issue. Mina died at Croydon on 30 January 1957, survived by her husband, son and two daughters. The La Trobe Library holds a large collection of their portrait photographs.