Facebook before Facebook: the Photo News

Recently, we have been lucky to work with the HB Williams Memorial Library in Gisborne to make the Gisborne Photo News available on DigitalNZ. We are now pointing to 14,190 images of life in Gisborne, taken between 1954 and 1975.

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Image: Gisborne Photo News, no. 123, September 10, 1964, title page and back page.

The Photo News was a series of monthly publications produced by the Logan Publishing Group in Gisborne, which at its height was distributing to seven regions around New Zealand. Both Nelson’s and Gisborne’s Photo News have been digitised and we are lucky to have Nelson Photo News available on DigitalNZ too, which received one of DigitalNZ’s ‘Make it Digital’ grants to digitise this collection in 2010. The Gisborne Photo News’ digitised collection was launched in October 2012, and the website has received over a million hits since its launch. You can read about the publication’s history and search and explore both magazines here.

Both of these collections are astonishingly comprehensive records of life in New Zealand in the mid-twentieth century and well worth having a look through.

The construction of the Photo News was a pleasingly analogue affair: the photos were printed, the captions typed out, everything laid out and pasted up, printed off and then distributed around the regions.

Though the magazines have now shifted medium from analogue to digital, they are a nice reminder that humans are still much the same and long before social media, we were fascinated by the lives and images of other people. As the opening editorial in the first issue of Gisborne Photo News states:

“In addition, our publication may help to promote interest in community life. Pictures often do bring a deeper awareness of what our fellow citizens are doing. We hope we can be of service along these lines.”

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Image: Four women competitors in the Gisborne Surfrider’s Club’s mid-winter contest. Gisborne Photo News, no. 132, June 16, 1965.

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Image: Members of the East Coast Televiewers’ Society installing their translator on Pungarehunui Point. Gisborne Photo News, No 124 October 8, 1964, p. 4.

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Image: Neighbours get together for a natter, at the opening of a new bridge over the Sherry River in the Wangapeka Valley. Nelson Photo News, no. 69, July 23, 1966, p. 20.

You can search both of these collections via DigitalNZ and also on their own websites. Search for key words via the search box in the top right of the website, and also via the handy people and places search function.

If your family or friends were living in these regions between the dates of publication, and they went out in public at any stage, it is highly likely that they were snapped by one of the News’ ‘roving photographers’.

Finally, I’d like to point you in the direction of the 1957 Gisborne Autumn Carnival and its many delights, including the man who captures bullets in his teeth, Wilton’s Wonder Horses, and the ‘Red Shadow’s’ ascent into the stratosphere via gas-filled balloons!


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Hi Janet, thanks for your question. I see you've emailed info@digitalnz.org, so I will repsond to you from there. And agreed, the Photo News is amazing!

--Thomasin • 2014-05-01 00:00:00 UTC