A special piece of equipment has started to unlock the secrets held on 22,000 rolls of film taken over the last 70-plus years.

The work of noted local photographer Russell Spiller, who captured up to a million images at everything from weddings to public events, was seen yesterday by an invited group at the Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank.

With a $9575 grant from this year's Hastings District Council Contestable Grants Fund a slide and negative scanner was purchased so Mr Spiller's pictorial record of life in Hawke's Bay could start to be revealed.

Mr Spiller was the owner of Batchelor's Candid Studios in Napier from 1946 to 1981 and some of his family were there yesterday to watch some of the first images be processed.

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It is expected to take three-plus years to digitise the images and Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said it was incredible the number of people who remembered getting their photos taken by Mr Spiller.

"It was amazing seeing people reminisce about the events and watching some of the first photos being displayed with the scanner in action.

"Hastings has changed a lot as the years have gone by and it is incredible to have the technology to be able to have that history recorded. I am very proud of the team at Knowledge Bank and the volunteers who have done this."

Napier mayor Bill Dalton was unable to attend the event yesterday but could vividly remember getting his photo taken as a youngster by Mr Spiller.

He said Mr Spiller was an absolute "icon" for the region.

"I think it is fabulous that the family have offered his collection for us and for it to be copied. It is a wonderful gesture."

The Hawke's Bay Digital Archives Trust was set up in 2011 to ensure the "wealth of fading photographs, letters, recordings and much more stashed away in old shoeboxes and family collections" was not lost forever, said trust chairman Peter Dunkerley. The trust opened the doors of The Knowledge Bank in December 2012.

For more information on Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank and to help with projects via donations visit knowledgebank.org.nz.