Spencer Digby


Spencer Digby had an ability to subtly finesse his portraits and gave tremendous prestige to the art of portraiture in Wellington, most notably with his enduring image of Michael Joseph Savage.

Born at Dagenham, Essex, England, Digby worked briefly as a butcher before becoming an assistant at R. N. Speaight’s photographic studios in London, whose clientele included members of England’s nobility. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1923 after accepting a job offer from the photographic firm S. P. Andrew Limited in Auckland.

Digby moved to Wellington and in 1932 started his own business. Two years later he moved into a specially designed studio and quickly established himself as one of the capital’s leading society photographers. He was committed to producing work of the highest standard regardless of his subject, skills he subsequently passed on to Brian Brake, who worked for him from 1945 to 1949.

Among Digby’s most notable subjects was the New Zealand Labour Party prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage. Digby’s portrait of Savage was published in one of the leading weeklies and quickly became a New Zealand icon, adorning homes throughout the country after Savage’s death in 1940.

In the late 1950s Digby moved to Auckland, leaving the management of the studio to an employee. It was eventually sold in 1961 to Ronald and Inge Woolf. Marrying for a second time in April 1966, Digby devoted most of his remaining years to assisting his wife, Phyllis, in her retail clothing businesses.

Digby died in Remuera on 22 June 1995, aged 93.

Adapted by Andy Palmer from the DNZB biography by William Main

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