Frank Hofmann was an influential photographer, both commercially and artistically, introducing interwar European modernist ideas and practices into New Zealand.
Hofmann was born in 1916 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was given a camera in 1929. At 16 he joined the Prague Photographic Society, whose prevailing aesthetic was informed by a respect for pictorialism and a vital interest in the New Photography then dominating the photographic avant-garde. This pairing of influences characterised Hofmann’s work throughout his life.
Spencer Digby had an ability to subtly finesse his portraits and gave tremendous prestige to the art of portraiture in Wellington, most notably with his enduring image of Michael Joseph Savage.
Born at Dagenham, Essex, England, Digby worked briefly as a butcher before becoming an assistant at R. N. Speaight’s photographic studios in London, whose clientele included members of England’s nobility. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1923 after accepting a job offer from the photographic firm S. P. Andrew Limited in Auckland.
A prize-winner from the moment she picked up a camera, Thelma Kent avidly photographed the New Zealand landscape, offering an independent and distinctive view.
Born in Christchurch in 1899, she was given a box camera by her uncle in 1914 and won a newspaper photographic competition, using the prize money to buy a newer camera. Her early photos were of school friends, but as her interest grew she concentrated more on pictorial work.
In the early years of photography it was relatively uncommon for women to take photographs, let alone work as professional photographers. Elizabeth Pulman was quite possibly New Zealand’s first female professional photographer.
The lure of gold brought thousands of men to the Antipodes in the 1800s. Glasgow-born John Crombie arrived in Melbourne at the height of the goldrush in 1852, but unable to find work as an engineer took a job with Meade Brothers, an American photographic firm. In 1855 he disembarked in Auckland and opened his own daguerreotype studio in Shortland Street.