Arne Loot: Party in Piha

Party in Piha is an exhibition of photographs by 97-year-old Titirangi photographer, Arne Loot, which document the legendary full-moon beach parties that took place in the remote coastal settlement of Piha in the 1960s. It has been created from a series of original proof sheets that Loot used to make for young party-host, Brian Rainger.

Rainger worked in his family textile business in Auckland but spent his weekends out at Piha, hosting the bright young things of the day — many of the guests were models and other glitterati associated with the fashion world, as well as local surfers and leading musicians to keep everyone entertained. At a time when bars closed at 6pm, the young people captured in these photographs dressed up (or down) and made their own fun on the west coast in an imagined tropical escape, inspired by popular films and Rainger’s travels to source textiles for the New Zealand fashion industry. Like the intrepid reporter in La Dolce Vita, Loot was invited to unobtrusively capture the moment. He created striking portraits and memorable scenes of party guests as they danced and socialised the night away; a lasting document of an innocent time.

Loot first established his own darkroom at the age of 11 in a wardrobe of his parents’ house in Holland. After travelling internationally, he arrived in Aotearoa in 1952. Already a skilled photographer, Loot found himself gainfully employed as a portrait photographer, later working in the advertising industry and as the photographer of choice for the Auckland City Art Gallery, Art New Zealand magazine, Webb’s, and a range of dealer galleries on the scene at the time, including New Vision, Dennis Cohn, Barry Lett, R.K.S Art and more.

This exhibition, developed by Sir Bob Harvey and Heath Wilkes from Phreon print studio, is presented as part of the 2021 Auckland Festival of Photography. It celebrates a unique selection of photographs that connects us to another era, particularly the rich social history of west Auckland. These photographs are distinctive as informal social documentation that predates camera phones and instamatic cameras, and are a rare glimpse into a vast archive from Loot’s long career, much of which has never been seen and cannot be found online.

Were you there? We’d love to put some names to faces. Visit the exhibition and see how many people you recognise.

29 May — 12 September 2020
Opening function Saturday 12 June, 4pm