Fiona Pardington has been photographing taonga (treasures in Maori) for over a decade. She searches for forgotten museum objects that were once cherished – such as hei tiki (neck ornaments) or taxidermied extinct animals – and deliberately represents them as portraits, imbuing them with a sense of their past value. These photographs from ‘A beautiful hesitation’ series 2010 are of head casts taken from life by the phrenologist Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier during his travels in the Pacific in 1837. They include the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville, on whose ship Dumoutier travelled, along with named individuals from across the Pacific. Phrenology, which asserts particular character traits and mental faculties by studying the shape of the human skull, was ubiquitous in Europe and the United States in the 19th century.It provided one of the first pseudo-scientific approaches to racial studies, giving impetus for example to the development of anthropology in France. For Pardington, photographing the busts in European museums was also a personal experience, as some of the Maori depicted were known to her own ancestors. There is a Maori expression that translates as, ‘our faces are the living graves of our ancestors who have departed into the night’, which conveys part of the complexity of portraiture for Maori.