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Did you ever wonder what might have happened to the family photos you were made to pose for when you were a child? Did you ever suspect they could wind up in a museum?

 

The upcoming Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland exhibition will include several images produced by Belwood Studios, a well-known Auckland photography studio from the mid-20th century. The Belwood negative collection, some 6500 images, was donated to the Museum and we want to find out as much as we can about the photographs.

 

We hold legal title to the physical negatives, but we are not the holders of the copyright – and we don’t know who is! Which is why we need your help, to discover the stories behind these wonderful works that capture a snapshot of Auckland’s history. Can you help us identify the people in these photographs?

Belwood Studio was run by principal photographer Amy Harper from the mid-1920s to the late 1970s. Amy and her sister Dickie Steer went on to own several studios across the city which spoke to Amy’s success as one of the great pioneer business women of Aotearoa. The negative collection is hugely diverse, showcasing people from all walks of life, communities, cultures, and suburbs. Amy had a keen eye for detail in composing the perfect shot; her placement of groups ‘stimulated a conversation in an uncontrived manner’, and her arrangement of hands revealed ‘the wedding ring in a natural manner'.[1] On Saturdays, she said in a 1987 interview, ‘we used to have a line all along Karangahape Road of wedding cars’.[2] The sisters employed mostly female staff and taught them a diverse array of photographic skills.[3] ‘I remember one time, a captain of a boat or something, a man with a lot of regalia … got in front of the camera, sitting down, very stiff,’ Amy recalled. ‘He said to me, “When’s the photographer coming in?” I said, “I am the photographer.” He sat like a piece of wood.’[4]

 

 

[1] Maitland, Gordon. “Amy Harper & Her Studios.” Art New Zealand 68, Spring (1993), p. 101.

[2] Myers, Gill. “Amy Harper and Dickie Steer – Photographers.” Unpublished essay, University of Auckland, 1987, p. 38.

[3] McClure, Margaret. “Harper, Amy Merania.” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5h8/harper-amy-merania (accessed 18 February 2020).

[4] Myers, Gill. ibid, p. 33.