Foy Brothers

Foy Brothers
Place of birth
Thames/Waikato (region)/New Zealand
James Joseph Foy (1844-1890) and Joseph Michael Foy (1847-1923) arrived in New Zealand in 1849 after gaining free passage from London with their parents and two older sisters. Their father, James senior, was enlisted with the 8th Detachment of the New Zealand Fencibles, a band of retired British soldiers employed as a military reserve to defend Auckland from the threat of invasions from Māori.
After being employed by the Queen Street photographer Hartley Webster in 1867, Joseph Michael Foy established his own photographic company in 1868. From 1871 onwards Joseph and his brother James operated a photographic studio in Thames under the business name Foy Brothers. Their success in their context is evidenced by the expansion of their business and premises and by 1885 they were advertising a “Large Assortment of Auckland, Thames, Ohinemuri, Coromandel, And Te Aroha Views; and the best collection of Maori photographic in New Zealand”.
The Foy Brothers’ most regular productions were studio portraits for local settler residents, however they produced nearly 70 photographic portraits of Māori who were either local, or visited Thames when the Land Courts were in session. It seems that the photographic studio remained in Thames until 1909, when Joseph Michael Foy opened a photographic studio at no. 4 Eden Terrace in Auckland, where he stocked negatives taken at Thames from 1896 onwards (Thames Star, Volume XLV, Issue 10611, 22 December 1909).
The Foy Brothers’ photographs are significant in their own right as independent images in that they provide insight into photographic portraiture practice in 19th century New Zealand and reveal the growing market of ethnographic photographic portraiture after the arrival of cartes de visites in New Zealand in the mid-1850s. The replacement of wet-plate and glass-plate photography with dry-plate photography made portrait photography cheaper and more efficient to produce, prompting an increase in the number of photographic studios
The Foy Brothers’ photographs can be placed within a wider photographic context in New Zealand in which Māori sitters were posed in ‘authentic’ customary Māori studio props that distinctly aligned the subjects with a traditional past that would appeal to European audiences. Ken Hall notes that the same items of traditional clothing and adornment appear multiple times in the Foy Bros’ photographs, indicating that studio props were used to convey an ‘authentic’ Māori appearance, with modern clothing visible underneath.
He lists the following studio props and argues that they can be ‘safely credited to the Foy Brothers’ studio’:
- kaitaka with tāniko borders – seen 12 times.
- Kahu kurī (dogskin cloak) worn by nine male sitters
- Distinctive tiki worn by 12 people
- Same pair of huia feathers in over half the photographs.
- Fighting implements appear in several portraits and moko
He argues that as most Māori had adopted European dress by the 1870s, the traditional dress in the Foy Bros’ photographs could be viewed as an attempt to record ‘old-time Māori’ in order to attract sales within the ethnographic carte de visite collecting craze of the 1860s.
The photographs are also significant for their archival significance. As well as documenting significant Māori (predominantly from the iwi Ngāti Maru), several of the photographs were used by Gottfried Lindauer in the painting of his portraits. Lindauer’s arrival in New Zealand coincided with a revolution in photographic technique and practice in New Zealand. Lindauer collected a significant number of cartes de visite and cabinet photographs by photographers throughout New Zealand and used these as preparatory material for his paintings. There is evidence that for many of his portraits he employed an epidiascope to project a pre-existing photographic portrait onto the canvas and then trace around this image with pencil. It is now certain that Lindauer based many of his portraits on photographs taken by photographic studios such as that of the Foy Brothers. This is evident in this group of photographs, which contains three photographs that can be directly linked to Lindauer portraits in the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection.
Although the photographs were taken for specific commissions and were produced independently as part of the photographic studio’s business, there is evidence that a symbiotic relationship existed between Lindauer and the Foy Brothers in the sale of their works. In particular, Ken Hall notes an account in which Lindauer’s painted version of the Foy Brothers’ photographic portrait of Hori Ngakapa Whanaunga was exhibited in the Foy Brothers’ window and was subsequently sold to Ngakapa. It can be deduced from this account that the relationship between Lindauer and the Foys was, in this instance, collaborative and Hall argues that it seems plausible that other Lindauer oil portraits of Māori portraits based on the Foy’s photographs might have been offered for sale in similar circumstances.