An exhibition of Auckland street photos from the 1970s by artist Graham Kirk

I was 19 when I bought my first camera, en route to England on the Rangitoto. It was a Canon 35mm rangefinder type and I was shooting Kodachrome transparencies.

I lived in London for two years, mostly working as a barman, and whenever I could I was taking photos around the UK, and on the Continent in the summers while hitch hiking. They weren’t great pictures, but I enjoyed the process.

As a kid I’d grown up in Hawera, and so after a couple of years of living in London I thought that Auckland seemed like a good place to settle on my return.

“Vulcan Lane was always a good spot to photograph.”

My first job in Auckland was making belts at a company called Armour Creations in Kingsland. I’d walk there from my boarding house in Herne Bay. I was trying black and white film in my camera for the first time and took some pictures of the odd mix of tenants there.

A few months later I was living in Grafton when one day I met an old school friend on Grafton Bridge, Paul Hewson from our old Hawera Intermediate School days. He was living in a comfortable little flat just a block away from my inferior accomodation. That evening I paid him a visit and he showed me the black and white photos that he’d been taking, along with the work of other Auckland photographers, plus some books on the work of Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank. It was a revelation assisted with a little NZ green – and it made me determined to get out the next day with my camera, now that I knew that it was possible to see the world in a different light.

“This was at a Rally for Rowling in Western Springs. No contact here with the photographer which was good. I like that the girl has the image of Bill on her top. The noble pastoral image was never realised. Rowling lost, but David Lange was just around the corner.”

After various other jobs, including photographic processing and working as a postal assistant at the Auckland Central Post Office, I entered Auckland Teachers College but only taught for a year, mainly because I wanted to get back to taking photographs.

A return to my old post office job with its shift hours afforded me this opportunity and I did this for five years. Two of those years involved emptying the money boxes from all of the public telephone boxes over the whole of greater Auckland. This was a particularly good job because we would finish early in the afternoon and I would have the rest of the day to roam the Auckland CBD with my camera.

“I was lucky to get this one, in Wellesley Street just as the paperboy ignites his cigarette expertly with cupped hands, and the Star poster works nicely in there too.”

I lived in Auckland for 10 years from 1970 to 1980, mostly in Mt Eden and Ponsonby, so I was never too far from places to photograph, and I could walk into the city. When I look back on the pictures that I took I’m surprised at how many of the subjects were Maori or Pasifika.

Since then I’ve done a comic strip called “Dick Sargeson” that ran for three years in the Listener in the mid 1980s and since 1989 I’ve been painting full time, but I still use the camera as a source of imagery.

“It was hard not to be impressed with the gall of this guy taking a breather in the middle of Vulcan Lane.”

There is something special about the black and white photograph.

When I look at my old contact sheets of my Auckland images of the 1970s, it’s with a definite sense of nostalgia.

“Dominion Road, not far from where I was living at the time in Avenham Walk. This chap burst out of a gateway and came charging down the road, making exaggerated puffing noises. One of my favourite images.”

 The striking illustrative artworks – and 1970s black and white photographs – of New Plymouth artist Graham Kirk can be found at his website.


Graham Kirk is a New Plymouth artist. His long practice has been to combine a background setting of New Zealand, often Taranaki, with a character who may or may not be a superhero. They look amazing.

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