Counties-Manukau essays

Alton Francis: photographer and cameraman

Alton Francis (1926-1997) was a noted Howick photographer and cinematographer. Examples of his work held by the Manukau Research Library include Auckland scenes from the 1940s onwards, shots of early New Zealand television productions, Howick scenes from the 1970s to the 1990s, and a number of other photos taken around New Zealand and overseas. A selection of these photographs is available on Footprints.

Alton Francis was born in Auckland in 1926. Most of his early life was spent in and around Auckland. At the age of seventeen he opened a photographic studio in High Street. Later, he worked as a cinematographer for various companies both in New Zealand and Australia.

Alton Francis at work in his High Street studio, 1940s.

Alton Francis at work in his High Street studio, 1940s (Photograph reproduced courtesy of Mrs Diane Francis)

Alton began working in the New Zealand Broadcasting Service’s (later NZBC) Shortland Street studios in 1960, retiring from his career in television as Supervising Film Editor in 1986. He was also director of photography on the 1972 Rudall Hayward film, To Love a Maori, and made several videos associated with activities in Howick.

Alton lived in Howick from 1953 and was known in the area as an enthusiastic photographer. Over the years, he also travelled extensively around New Zealand, photographing various aspects of the countryside. After his retirement, he travelled to Japan, Europe, Thailand and Australia. On all of his trips, his cameras were an essential part of his luggage.

Much of Alton’s time during the last ten years of his life was devoted to the formation and running of the Hayward Historical Film Trust, of which he was the chairperson.

Filming underway for Rudall Hayward’s film To Love a Maori on location on the East Coast. 1971.


Filming underway for Rudall Hayward’s film To Love a Maori on location on the East Coast. 1971. Alton Francis is behind the camera. (Photograph reproduced courtesy of Mrs Diane Francis)

Alton died in 1997. In August 1998 the Uxbridge Creative Leisure Centre in Howick hosted an exhibition of his life and work, curated by his wife Diane (‘Alton Francis Commemorative Photographic Exhibition: “Flashback”, August 1st to 16th 1998’). The exhibition included photographs of Auckland scenes from the 1940s to the 1960s, shots of early New Zealand television productions, scenes in Howick and environs in the 1970s to the 1990s, and other photographs taken on his travels around New Zealand and overseas.

In 2008 Mrs Francis placed the documentary exhibition materials on long term loan with the Manukau Research Library. These included some biographical materials and a collection of about 825 photographs, the majority mounted on exhibition boards (MNP MS 139).

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