From Te Papa to red carpets and getting too close to the Queen: Highlights of a life photographing Wellington


Neil Price has photographed official portraits of eight mayors in his 35-year career.

Juan Zarama Perini/witness

Neil Price has photographed official portraits of eight mayors in his 35-year career.

He has been capturing the city for 35 years, but this week Wellington City Council photographer Neil Price hung up his camera for the last time.

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Price has served eight mayors, dozens of elected councilors and hundreds of staffers on the council’s various teams, but Wednesday was his last shift.

A sold out Courtenay Place watching the Lions tour in July 2005 on a big screen.

Neil price

A sold out Courtenay Place watching the Lions tour in July 2005 on a big screen.

His legacy is his images, taken between 1987 and today, which capture the growth of the capital. By last year he had taken more than four million pictures.

Price’s work encompasses an entire wall of boxes stacked in the city’s archives near the Basin Reserve.

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“My love is Wellington and I photograph the beauty of the city,” Price said in an interview.

He began serving on the council in his early 30s. Now in his mid-60s, Price shares the burden with another photographer and a videographer.

A round-the-world yacht race leaves Wellington after a stopover in 2005.

Neil price

A round-the-world yacht race leaves Wellington after a stopover in 2005.

Price became a mechanic with the Wellington Harbor Board after leaving Porirua College at the age of 15, then worked as a bus driver in Wellington and then spent a decade as a night-shift cab driver.

He says joining the council was an advantage because he knew the city’s landscape after driving around for 10 years.

But what really led to his life behind the lens was a five-week trip abroad after his father’s death.

An ocean swim in Oriental Bay in January 2008.

Neil price

An ocean swim in Oriental Bay in January 2008.

In India, where there was beautiful light due to pollution, Price discovered his love for photography.

He returned to Wellington and a friend taught him how to make black and white films. He was then accepted into a year-long photography diploma at Wellington Polytech — one of only 13 people in the country.

From there, Price was pushed onto the council and has since photographed events, performances, staff and official mayoral portraits, images for press releases, internal documents and newsletters, and external advertising.

He’s chronicled the construction of Sky Stadium and Te Papa, progress on Wellington City Hall and many groundbreakings – something he jokes is more of a “grip-and-grin” exercise.

Queuing outside the City Gallery in Wellington in September 2009 for the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.

Neil price

Queuing outside the City Gallery in Wellington in September 2009 for the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.

When he started, Price was considered part of the city council’s library department and shot exclusively on film, with the negatives developed in a darkroom and the prints then processed in labs around the corner.

The price shifted to digital photography as soon as Canon released a professional camera.

In June 2013, a massive southerly storm hit Wellington's south coast.

Neil price

In June 2013, a massive southerly storm hit Wellington’s south coast.

When shooting, he uses his intuition.

He photographed Queen Elizabeth II at Government House and was accused by a security guard of getting too close to her; he shot the city during the first Covid-19 lockdown when the streets were emptying; and was there for most of the fireworks over the harbor.

The cruise ship World docked at Queens Wharf in April 2014.

Neil price

The cruise ship World docked at Queens Wharf in April 2014.

Price prefers to photograph the Wellington countryside. He has lived in most suburbs for over three decades and says every mayor has been nice to deal with.

Wellington has changed for the better, Price said, not least because it’s no longer the “grey capital” but just home to crowds in monochromatic suits.

The most important part of his job was maintaining good relationships with staff and elected officials.

Price says what he will miss most is the people.

Juan Zarama Perini/witness

Price says what he will miss most is the people.

Documenting everything is important, but technical photography doesn’t offer much creative freedom, he said.

Price won’t miss the shift work necessary to cover important events at all times of the day, including weekends: “The city never sleeps,” he noted. But he will miss the people.

He plans to continue contracting.

The Dominion Post asked Price to compile a selection of his favorite images from the last 35 years. Here are some of them…

The Wharewaka Opening Ceremony in February 2011.

Neil price

The Wharewaka Opening Ceremony in February 2011.

The foundation for Te Papa is laid.

Neil price

The foundation for Te Papa is laid.

During the initial phase of the lockdown in May 2020, Karori Cemetery staff still have work to do.  In the picture Marcello Pierini.

Neil price

During the initial phase of the lockdown in May 2020, Karori Cemetery staff still have work to do. In the picture Marcello Pierini.

The Telekom Christmas tree in Waitangi Park in December 2011.

Neil price

The Telekom Christmas tree in Waitangi Park in December 2011.

Adrien Brody at the New Zealand premiere of King Kong in Wellington in December 2005.

Neil price

Adrien Brody at the New Zealand premiere of King Kong in Wellington in December 2005.

Gandalf on the big screen at Waitangi Park, November 2012.

Neil price

Gandalf on the big screen at Waitangi Park, November 2012.

Waitangi Day at Waitangi Park, February 2021. Pictured Frank Sweeney and baby Te Kaahui Haenga.

Neil price

Waitangi Day at Waitangi Park, February 2021. Pictured Frank Sweeney and baby Te Kaahui Haenga.

The Michael Fowler Center in purple for Voting Rights Day 2013.

Neil price

The Michael Fowler Center in purple for Voting Rights Day 2013.



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