09 April 2011

From Germany to Australia: photographic art of the 1950s and 60s

The author Robert Deane refers to the years from 1938 till after WW2 as a period of foreign influences in Australian photography. As a young man, Deane didn’t know of non-British or non-Australian photographers in Australia, and was rather delighted to find an entire generation of beautifully trained artists on our shores. Sadly the efforts of Australian security and suspicion of enemy aliens had largely denied one immigrant photographer, Margaret Michaelis, the opportunity to work to her potential during the war. And three of her artist contemporaries had to serve their time in the Australian Army, labouring: Wolfgang Sievers and Henry Talbot in Employment Companies and Helmut Newton as a truck driver.

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.

Modern domestic architecture, designed by Robin Boyd, by Strizic.

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.


the foto fanatic said...

As we have previously noted, the immigrants we welcomed to this country in those post-war years gave us so much. How have we lost the willingness to accept today's refugees?

Great piece, Hels.

Sydney's Powerhouse Museum has been celebrating the work of Bruno Benini - I think the retrospective closes shortly - but to look at his sublime fashion photography from the 50s was a highlight of my recent visit to Sydney.

Similarly with the work of Strizic - he makes photography effortless.

RuthP said...

I saw the The Paris End of Collins Street: Photography, Fashion and Glamour Exhibition. Pretty good, especially since many of these professional potographers were men.

Hels said...

foto fanatic

I don't know Bruno Benini's work, but I love what the Powerhouse said about him. Bruno Benini’s remarkable photography archive was acquired earlier this year with funding assistance from the Australian Government through the National Cultural Heritage Account. Along with Wolfgang Sievers, Mark Strizic, Dieter Muller, Henry Talbot, Helmut Newton, David Mist and others, Benini an Italian-born, Melbourne-based fashion photographer, became one of a group of influential émigré commercial photographers working in post-war Australia. While Max Dupain is recognised as a genius of C20th Australian architectural photography and Wolfgang Sievers the master of industrial photography, Bruno Benini can be regarded as one of Australia’s most elegant and refined mid-C20th fashion photographers.

Sometimes the gods of bloggging are with us... with perfect timing! A year after I wrote this post and pre-scheduled it for this week, Powerhouse Museum is also involving itself in immigrants, photographic artists of the 1950s and fashion. What are the chances?

Hels said...

In the light of the Powerhouse Museum's current exhibition, have a look at http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/benini/ -

immigrants, photographers and not designers, mainly men and gorgeous.

Hermes said...

Fascinating. I can only add or rather confirm the view:

Arguably it was his new-comer status that allowed Strizic to photograph this booming city with fresh eyes.

We too often take things for granted until someone from outside our circle shows us how special they are.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Knowing very little about photography in Australia, and always interested in the period about which you write here, we found this post most fascinating, not least the account you give of a visit to Mark Strizic's house and studio.
We are new to the blog world and are delighted to have discovered you so early on. We shall return, as Followers of course.

Hels said...

that is so true.

Helmut Newton born in Germany 1920 and moved to Australia in 1940. Henry Talbot/Heinz Tichauer was born in Germany in 1920 and was shipped to Australia (on a prison ship) in 1940. Wolfgang Sievers was born in Germany in 1913 and arrived in Australia in 1938 etc etc.

They were not babies when left home. In fact they were men in their 20s who had seen something of Europe before they set sail, so they really could look at their new home with new eyes.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

welcome to the wonderful world of blogging.

I did art history at uni but somehow photographic art was never on offer as a serious academic subject. So I have had to do what all good bloggers do - I read every journal article I could find on Mark Strizic and his group of 1950s colleagues in Melbourne.

Follow the links in the post (underlined in blue) to find a range of sources from which I gathered evidence. Then follow their links etc etc

Kristin H said...

Of course you have been to Alhambra in Grenada:)
Wonderful article about a photographer that was not familiar to me and also to learn more from the Australian art scene. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Hels said...

hey Kristin,
thanks for coming over to the southern hemisphere :)

I would think that most Australian art historians would not have known Mark Strizic's wonderful work either, had it not been for Emma Matthews' new book called Mark Strizic and Melbourne. It is stunning. What a shame we don't recognise talent, while the artist is still alive. It is a bit too late after.

Alice said...

Thanks for an interesting post, it was such a pleasure to find some information on Strizic. I've just been searching the Internet gathering materials for my own blog posting, and I discovered that there's not much info about this distinguished photo artist.

I was also impressed by the fact that you saw Melbourne in 50s, partly because my post will be dedicated to this very topic, but also I'm feeling envy :) I love the Melbourne of the past although I have never seen it with my own eyes.
Sorry for the grammar, I'm not a native speaker.

Hels said...



"Melbourne – A City in Transition" was a collection of Strizic's images of city life, displayed in a 2009 exhibition. Was it published in book or catalogue form? I don't know but have a look at http://tinyurl.com/7cz66ts

Emma Matthews' book called "Mark Strizic and Melbourne" is well worth reading.

AUB production Photography from Australia said...
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Hels said...


good to hear. Do you have a particular interest in photography of this era?