As this blog has shown, several of Australia’s leading artists and art critics of the period were either virulently anti-Semitic or derisive of the new art forms being introduced by émigré artists. Nonetheless these emigres, largely German speaking, did eventually get into their proper careers.
I have analysed the contribution of Wolfgang Sievers in this blog in the past, but readers should also consider Athol Shmith, Helmut Newton and Heinz Tichauer/Henry Talbot. After the war, for example, Henry Talbot revived his passion for photography and in 1956, he set up a joint studio specialising in fashion and advertising in Melbourne with fellow Dunera internee Helmut Newton. Their joint contribution to the history of post-war photography in Australia was displayed in an enormous book of photographs from the 1950s-60s.
The Paris End of Collins Street: Photography, Fashion and Glamour Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria 2006 showcased the work of some of Melbourne’s best-known photographers from the period up to the 1960s, including Athol Shmith, Jack Cato, Julian Smith, May and Mina Moore, Ruth Hollick, Helmut Newton, Henry Talbot and Wolfgang Sievers. All of them established studios in the glamorous area at the top of Collins St, fondly called the Paris end.
Block Arcade Melbourne, 1960s, by Strizic
A few years ago, spouse and I were invited to visit the rural retreat of another very fine photographic artist, Mark Strizic. Mark gave a speech about what it was like being an artist after the war, who was doing good work and who was doing dodgy stuff, who was sleeping with whom etc. Then all the visitors moved into the studio where the tables were loaded up with photos, folders and documents, the massive papertrail of a long, creative life.
Strizic was born in Berlin in 1928, moved to Croatia during the war, and then finally moved to Melbourne in 1950. He became a labourer at Maribyrnong's Department of Works and Housing, then went to an office job at the railways. But even those dingy jobs were acceptable. I would imagine like many other Displaced Persons after the war, Strizic chose Melbourne to be as far away from the carnage of Europe as one could get, without falling off the globe. Fortunately Strizic had arrived in Australia more or less at the same time as these other art photographers, mainly German speaking as I noted. And in 1957 he felt he could take up photography as a career.
Arguably it was his new-comer status that allowed Strizic to photograph this booming city with fresh eyes. Boomerang Blog believed that as Strizic was the product of Europe, and viewed Australian life through post-war European eyes, his images did not celebrate our good fortune, but merely wondered at it. StevenClark also found the work of this immigrant photography to be incredibly interesting. He particularly loved the display “Melbourne: A City in Transition”.
Immigrants were very grateful for a secure, peaceful life and here was a grateful migrant with a good eye and a fine camera. I personally remember Melbourne in the early 1950s as a beautiful Victorian city, not yet destroyed by the developers’ bulldozers. Just as well Strizic captured those final years of Melbourne's architectural beauty and endless parkland. Young people today will have few other historical records of what Melbourne looked like, but for my generation it wasn’t history. It was our lives!
By the 1960s, the decision-makers wanted a smarter, taller, more modern Melbourne and “Whelan The Wrecker Was Here” signs started appearing on building sites (bomb sites?) everywhere. Even the very beautiful Paris End of Collins Street, Melbourne’s most prestigious address, was changing. And so were Melbourne's less than lovely back streets and inner-suburban slums.
In any case, Strizic had to move quickly. He photographed the destruction of buildings, before, during and after the wreckers were busy. Melbourne's architectural beauty, with its romantic European skyline of spires, cupolas and arches, was disappearing fast.
Strizic’s father had been an architect and Mark himself clearly had a lifelong interest in art and architecture. As well as the freelance photography of Melbourne’s architecture, Robin Boyd collaborated with Strizic on specific book called Living in Australia, in 1970. And in a special issue of the magazine Architecture in Australia commemorating Boyd in April 1973, Strizic did the photography.
Now a new book, by Emma Matthews, has emerged. Mark Strizic, Melbourne: Marvellous to Modern was published in 2009 by Thames & Hudson in association with the State Library of Victoria. Matthews said of Strizic that he was astounded by a general disregard for aesthetics in what he thought was such an opulent country, so his work became a kind of visual essay. Too late of course, but at least the book documents what was lost of the grand, the Victorian, the Marvellous Melbourne years.
Capers Restaurant, 1960s, by Strizic
Perhaps his most intimate photos were those of people going about their daily business in town. In the 1960s a shopping trip to the city was rather special, and restaurateurs created elegant, stylish environments where ladies could lunch. The restaurateur Ross Shelmerdine commissioned architect Robin Boyd to redesign Capers Restaurant in 1960. The renovation was finished in 1962 and included a courtyard cafe with umbrellas and plants.
In 2007, the State Library of Victoria acquired Strizic's entire archive of about 5000 negatives, colour transparencies and slides. Last year, the library received a collection of Strizic's photographs donated through the Australian Government's cultural gifts programme.
Emma Matthews' new book on Mark Strizic and Melbourne
Read: Foreign Influences in Australian Photography 1930-80 by Robert Deane (on line).
An exhibition called Melbourne – A City in Transition was held at Gallery 101 in Melbourne in 2009. Art Blart reviewed that exhibition and included some amazing Strizic photographs in the blog.