The image at the top of this blog is a slice of an exquisite 1959 photograph of four women reading The Evening Post. The Post was a lively afternoon newspaper published in Wellington, New Zealand from 1865 until 2002.
After The Post was shut, the owners donated all but the most recent photographic archive to the Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), the special collections and manuscripts part of the National Library of New Zealand.
This photograph (PAColl-7327-1-039-03) is now part of the ATL’s Dominion Post Collection. I paid to get the hard copy print digitized and the Turnbull gave me permission to publish the image on the condition that I acknowledge where it comes from. This post is my acknowledgment.
I discovered this picture in late 2012 while I was researching my book (Stop Press: the last days of newspapers). It was one of half a dozen images taken in the foyer of The Evening Post on Willis Street, almost certainly by a staff photographer.
The picture is delicate but intense. The women are squashed together at a bench, heads bent, scanning the pages of that afternoon’s Post for School C results– School Certificate was the national examination that all New Zealand teenagers used to sit at the end of fifth form (the equivalent of Year 10 in Australia). They are desperate to read the paper and find out how their kids got on.
The photo was in a folder marked EVENING POST NZ COMMUNICATIONS in a box 4/b marked Evening Post, General. It had been reprinted in a 1971 Evening Post supplement put out to remind readers of the sort of chaos that existed when newspapers were the only source of School C results.
Although the print was in poor condition (a caption had been ripped off the back, there was a small tear in it) I was drawn to so many of the details: the floral and striped fabric of their dresses; the lace petticoat that peeks below the hem of two skirts; the women’s sturdy court shoes; the easy manner in which the shortest woman rests her hand on the shoulder of her taller companion; the way the woman on the right is so scrunched up against the wall; the speckled marble floor. It is such a lovely, suggestive image. One woman is so keen to read the results, that she looks like she might topple forwards.
The most remarkable picture in the 1959 sequence shows a mob in the Post’s foyer (PAColl-7327-1-039-02). Hundreds of people are jammed in trying to buy the paper, hot off the press. More people push forward from the street. Newspapers are being passed over the heads of the crowd too fast for the shutter speed and they become a white, hot blur. Right up the front of the crowd, an impish wee boy grins up at the photographer. He passed! A little further along, a woman in white gloves and pearls bites her bottom lip and dips her shoulder into the back of the woman in front of her.
It was a mosh-pit in there and all for a copy of a newspaper. This photograph excited me – the energy of it – but it also made me sad. The foyers of newspaper offices are ghostly spots now.
The Post photographer obviously kept shooting for a while because other, quieter scenes are documented. Along with the four women reading, there is a photo of two boys lying on the floor and scanning the results. Behind them, an elderly women in a squashed sort of a hat leans over them, swinging a small handbag as if she is about to bop one of them over the head. I hope those boys passed. The caption that was published in the 1971 supplement said: ‘They should be nudging 30 now with all thoughts of school certificate and all things nasty long since flown, but 13 years ago there was undisputed eagerness.’
So, I acknowledge the talent of the unnamed press photographer who took these images and the staff who worked alongside the photographer at The Evening Post back then in the 1950s. I acknowledge the four women in the pretty dresses who scanned the pages for the results, the crowds in the foyer, the newspaper librarians who cared for the prints, the subs who marked them up for republication in 1971 and the research librarians who look after them now. PAColl-7327-1-039-3 and PAColl-7327-1-039-02, I acknowledge you both.