THE WAY WE WERE
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 email@example.com.
“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.