We’re cel­e­brat­ing our first birth­day with vin­tage party pics from the amaz­ing ar­chive of the late John Ryken­berg. We pub­lish these pho­to­graphs with a ques­tion – do you know the peo­ple in them?


Birth­day par­ties back in the day, from John Ryken­berg’s ar­chives.

The pho­tog­ra­pher John Ryken­berg (1927-2014) em­i­grated to New Zealand in 1952, from the small city of Wo­er­den in the Nether­lands, where his par­ents had a drap­ery shop. He was 24. He trav­elled light, with 40 Dutch guilders in his pocket, the equiv­a­lent of $30. Soon af­ter he flew into Auck­land he found work and looked to the fu­ture: he pressed suits for the Cam­bridge Cloth­ing Com­pany in New Lynn; he laboured on state houses in Ta­maki;ˉ he con­jured a plan to turn his hobby of photography into a liveli­hood. By 1958, he was mak­ing stain­less steel benches dur­ing the day and go­ing to clubs and restau­rants in the evening, snap­ping patrons who were will­ing to pay for doc­u­men­ta­tion of their night out.

Within a year he had packed in the sheet me­tal fab­ri­ca­tion and es­tab­lished Ryken­berg Photography. Head­quar­ters was the base­ment of a car wrecker’s yard lo­cated at 54 Dou­glas Street in Pon­sonby. He be­gan to ac­quire staff and more com­mis­sions – shoot­ing chil­dren’s and 21st par­ties, and var­i­ous other knees-ups in halls and

homes – im­mor­tal­is­ing, for in­stance: a man giv­ing a girl the glad eye; a pha­lanx of lit­tle boys in trick­ily pat­terned hand­knits; a beam­ing woman in a crepe party hat tuck­ing into chicken.

The busi­ness was lu­cra­tive, says Wendie Wright, who mar­ried Ryken­berg around the time – al­though the cost to the cus­tomer wasn’t great. “We looked at it as a way for peo­ple to af­ford photography. Back then not ev­ery­body could af­ford a stu­dio sit­ting. Some peo­ple we pho­tographed had never been pho­tographed be­fore, and many didn’t have cam­eras.” Ryken­berg Photography even­tu­ally de­ployed a posse of pho­tog­ra­phers around town, in­clud­ing Wright. The firm had lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion and, in the early days, lit­tle re­spect – from the in­dus­try, at least. In the 1960s the New Zealand Pro­fes­sional Pho­tog­ra­phers’ As­so­ci­a­tion re­fused re­peated mem­ber­ship ap­pli­ca­tions: “They thought we were just back­yard pho­tog­ra­phers,” says Wright.

More than one mil­lion im­ages from Ryken­berg Photography, taken in Auck­land be­tween 1958-2006, are in the Auck­land Li­braries col­lec­tion. The iden­ti­ties of al­most ev­ery­one in the pho­to­graphs are not cur­rently known; the li­brary hopes their pub­li­ca­tion here might en­cour­age peo­ple who recog­nise friends or rel­a­tives in the pho­to­graphs to share the in­for­ma­tion. To be in pos­ses­sion of these ar­chives is ex­tremely for­tu­nate: most pho­tog­ra­phers kept their neg­a­tives for as long as they kept their re­ceipts for tax re­turn pur­poses – for seven or 10 years. Not Ryken­berg, notes Wright, who with her chil­dren has do­nated the col­lec­tion. “You can’t throw a city’s his­tory into a rub­bish bin.” ●

Im­ages from Ryken­berg Photography can be ac­cessed through Auck­land Li­braries’ Her­itage Im­ages data­base. If you would like more in­for­ma­tion or can iden­tify any­one ap­pear­ing in the pho­to­graphs, con­tact spe­cial­col­lec­tions@auck­land­coun­

“Some peo­ple we pho­tographed had never been pho­tographed be­fore, and many didn’t have cam­eras.”

Right John Ryken­berg shot chil­dren’s par­ties, 21st birth­days and more. The kids in this 1959 im­age (#1269-A996-14) aren’t iden­ti­fied; Auck­land Li­braries wants to hear from you if recog­nise any of them.

Above Claude Carter’s 21st birth­day party, 1961, im­age number 1269-E127-3. Op­po­site page, top left Four uniden­ti­fied young boys at a 21st birth­day party, 1959, im­age number 1269-B109-22. Top right An uniden­ti­fied woman sit­ting down to a birth­day tea, 1959, im­age number 1269-A996-34. Bot­tom left Bev Most’s 21st birth­day party, 1961, im­age number 1269-E132-37. Bot­tom right An uniden­ti­fied young boy and girl at a 21st birth­day party, 1959, im­age number 1269-B109-23.

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