State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 62 Spring 1998


Reactive and Proactive: Policies of Photographic Documentation in the Picture Collection, 1978–1998

The Library has commissioned and acquired visual material since its earliest days. The Trustees of the then Melbourne Public Library commissioned the photographer Barnett Johnstone to photograph the newly completed Queen's Reading Room on 24 May 1859. Between 1866 and 1880, Sir Redmond Barry and the Trustees commissioned over 50 oval hand-coloured photographic portraits of prominent men, including the Governors of the Australian colonies. These were largely the work of two prominent Melbourne photographers, Thomas Foster Chuck (ca. 1826–1898) and John Botterill (1817–1881). Unfortunately, this energetic approach to collection-building was something that the Library, for various reasons, was unable to sustain; and over the years a disparate collection of historical items and images relating to Victoria grew, almost solely by gift.1 By 1929 an Historical Collection (now the Picture Collection), with its own accession registers, had been formed to collect together these items. Without a discrete allocation of funds for the purpose, the Library by necessity continued to take a passive role in documenting our history, and for many years the Historical Collection grew in a sporadic fashion without a real collection development policy.2 However, following the appointment in 1978 of the first Picture Librarian, Mrs Frances (Shar) Jones, the first steps towards a more proactive collecting role were taken, with the introduction of proper cataloguing and accessioning procedures, the formation of browseable sequences such as the Small Picture and Portrait Files, all of which increased the profile of the collection.
While the idea of initiating and commissioning a photographer to document a current phenomenon or item was still difficult to put into practice without an adequate acquisition budget, the Library's photographer Leone Mills, with staff members of the Picture Collection, 3 documented places and events of interest as they occurred. It is largely through their efforts that we can see some of the buildings which once occupied the site of our former City Square, the Queen Victoria Market prior to its refurbishment, parts of nineteenth-century Carlton, the closing of Bourke's ACTU store in February 1980, and numerous political and social demonstrations in the streets of Melbourne.
In summary, while the increased use and higher profile of the Picture Collection led to increased donation of items to its collections, without recurrent funding various important events, as well as whole sections of the community were, in effect, left out of our history.
With the appointment in 1983 of Christine Downer as Picture Librarian, a rigorous survey of the collection was undertaken, and the paucity of its twentieth-century holdings was revealed. Several areas were targeted for immediate action. The lack of documentation of the city itself between about 1912 and 1970 was in part met by the staggered acquisition (commencing in 1983) of the Harold Paynting Collection, 4 which consisted of over 25,000 negatives and prints of one of Melbourne's foremost commercial and industrial photographic firms, the Commercial Photographic Company. The Picture Collection also received its first budget allocation of $5000 in 1984, an allocation that was made partly as a result of a number of missed opportunities to acquire important items. Concurrently with this, the Library participated in the sesquicentenary exhibition, ‘Victorian vision, 1834 onwards: images and records from the National Gallery of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria’, held at the National Gallery in 1985, thereby further increasing its profile.
Then, in early 1986, in conjunction with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, the Picture Collection undertook its first major commission in over a hundred years. Dyranda Prevost, a photographer employed by the Brotherhood and Christine Downer developed a proposal to document the living arrangements and styles of a wide cross-section of residential accommodation in Victoria. The proposal was influenced by a similar undertaking of the Swedish museum organisation SAMDOK, an abbreviation translating roughly as ‘museum documentation of contemporary society’. SAMDOK was an ambitious project that documented the home, public and work environment of selected people.5 As well as photographically documenting these environments, each item owned was listed and the family's routines were

Dyranda Prevost, b. 1941, Interior, room in a men's boarding house, Richmond. Gelatin silver photograph, 1986 from Living Places — Twenty Houses [LTAEF 83 H89.180/26], La Trobe Picture Collection.

observed for a month to enable a comprehensive picture of their lives to be drawn. While not intending or desiring to repeat such an activity in Victoria, the Picture Collection in association with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence worked to identify 20 disparate types of housing and their occupants. This co-operative venture was seen as a fitting contribution to the International Year of Shelter. The project resulted in an archive of 220 photographs documenting a range of living conditions, including a Western District homestead, a caravan, and a high-rise Ministry of Housing flat.6 These images can only become more important as time passes. A very successful exhibition of the photographs was held at the Library, concurrent with the launch of an accompanying publication Living Places: Twenty Houses. This book, incorporating many of the photographs by Prevost and floor plans by architect Ann Rado, was published by McPhee-Gribble in 1987. The exhibition toured regional Victoria and a selection of 80 prints drawn from it was presented by the City of Melbourne to the City of Leningrad under the sister-city scheme in 1989. The entire archive of prints is now available via the Internet through the Library's Image Database at

Dyranda Prevost, b. 1941, Flat Fleet De-enactment, Fitzroy Swimming Pool, 22 January 1988- ‘The Queen’ and ‘Captain Arthur Phillip’ afloat. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned [LTAF 697 H88.43/5], La Trobe Picture Collection.

With its own budget, and an increased profile, the Picture Collection could now afford to purchase works in a range of formats, including photography, and to commission photographers such as Dyranda Prevost, Elizabeth Gilliam and Antonia Chaffey to document events of importance and interest occurring in Victoria. Aspects of the Anti-Bicentennial protests were documented, including the ‘Flat Fleet Deenactment’, held at the Fitzroy Pool on 22 January 1988, in which the ‘Queen’ and ‘Arthur Phillip’ were ceremoniously engaged in battle and then unceremoniously repelled and dunked. Other events included the 30th birthday celebrations of St. Kilda's Scheherezade Coffee Lounge, the Vietnam Veterans’ International Reunion of 1988, short-listed nominees for the Premier's Literary Awards, the documentation of an early timber residence in Northcote, and the processes involved in a small family-run cake shop. As well, the Picture Collection acquired by commission and direct purchase portraits of actors, comics, authors, artists, cartoonists and photographers
during this period. The fruits of some of this burst of new acquisitions and commissions were subsequently displayed in the exhibition, ‘Pictures in an Institution; new directions, new acquisitions’, held at the Library in 1989. This presented a diverse, encouraging and somewhat controversial view of proactive collecting.7
Concurrently with this, the lack of representation in the collection of Victoria's diverse multicultural community was also being addressed. In 1985 the Library had, in co-operation with the Italian Historical Society, mounted an archive project entitled ‘Victoria's Italians’, which became the ‘Australia's Italians’ touring exhibition and archive in 1988–89. As well, a travelling exhibition project entitled ‘Survival and Celebration: Women in Chinese Settlement in Australia 1856–1986’ was initiated and curated by Morag Loh, a writer, historian and pioneer of oral history in Australia. It was this fortuitous forging of links with Morag Loh that made it possible for the Library to take the collection in another new direction. With her assistance and encouragement, the Library made a successful funding application to the Australian Bicentennial Authority in 1987 to fund the establishment of an archive of photographs drawn initially from members of the Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese and Lebanese communities. The Library realised that simply increasing the collection's purchasing power for acquisitions would not fill all the collection gaps. A more proactive stance was necessary, and the Archive comprised images copied from originals held by members of these communities, as well as the work of 12 documentary photographers8 who were commissioned to photograph families and social events within each of the five community groups. The curator, Morag Loh, worked with prominent members of these groups to identify suitable subjects, including people, workplaces, social functions and community activities, that would be seen to provide a public representation of their contributions that was acceptable to them.

Emmanuel Santos, b. 1957, Children at Richmond West Primary School, Lennox St. Richmond. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned, 1988. Building a Country archive — Vietnamese community [LTAF 538 H92.250/239], La Trobe Picture Collection.

As well as a photographic archive of over 1300 images, now available through the Library's Image Database, an important component of the project was a travelling exhibition. It comprises a selection of between 25 and 30 images drawn from the archive, with caption and text panels for each of the five communities. The culmination of the project was the launching of the exhibition before an audience of over 400 people in the Library's Irving Benson Hall, in 1989. Opened by the then Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Councillor Winsome McCaughey, it was an immediate success. The popularity of the loan exhibition, which was entitled ‘Building A Country: the Migrant Experience’, is apparent in the number of requests the Picture Collection still receives to borrow the exhibition, ten years on. This is partly because the whole exhibition may be borrowed, or a single component, or selection of the five components. Durably mounted and simple to install, it can be used for display at Community Centres, Schools, Migrant Citizens Centres and Neighbourhood Houses, and is not limited to display in art institutions, where people may not feel comfortable to visit and interact with the material in a casual and social setting. The exhibition broke new ground in terms of making parts of the community feel that their contribution to the history of Victoria was recognised by a major public repository and that they themselves could be part of this for the benefit of the wider community. It also showed that the State Library had something to offer to parts of the community who may have felt that such an institution was of little relevance to their daily lives. Finally, it made the Library's Picture Collection more representative of Victoria's people in this period. The entire archive can now be accessed through the Library's Image Database, via the Internet.

Angela Lynkushka, b. 1947, An outworker in the clothing industry at home, Brunswick. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned, 1980. Building a Country archive — Greek community [LTAF 573 H92.250/738], La Trobe Picture Collection.

Since 1990, the Library has been able to continue the project through the generosity of the Helen Schutt Trust and the enthusiasm and efforts of Morag Loh, surveying the Maltese, Japanese and German communities in 1990, 1991 and 1992 respectively.9 Funding is still being sought to continue this project to survey the French, Russian, Indo-Chinese, Eastern European and African communities in the future.

Grant Hobson, b. 1965, Testing the bias of bowls, Henselite Bowls, North Melbourne. Gelatin silver photograph, 1995. [LTAF 696 H95.230/130], La Trobe Picture Collection.

Grant Hobson, b. 1965, Pulling catgut through salt, Clip Springer works, Brooklyn. Gelatin silver photograph, 1995. [LTAF 696 H95.230/21], La Trobe Picture Collection.

More recently, the Picture Collection funded a related project from its own budget. Organised and curated by Christine Downer, the project comprising an archive and an exhibition was ‘Remembrance, Memory and Life: Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Victoria’. Melbourne has one of the world's highest population of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and the Library has forged strong links with this community. However, this project is slightly different from the other ‘Building A Country’ archives in that it contains very little material copied from members of this community, 10 and the Library commissioned Elizabeth Gilliam, who had worked on the first ‘Building A Country’ project, solely to document this community. Nearly 80 different people were photographed, and from the archive of approximately 36 negatives and selected prints for each subject, one image was enlarged for exhibition purposes. The archive consists of over 2600 negatives, 350 photographs, some personal papers as well as taped interviews with some of the subjects. The exhibition was first shown at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in 1993 and is available for loan, in whole or part, to art galleries and museums.
A flow-on effect of the higher profile of the Picture Collection in the wider community was the presentation of proposals from artists and photographers to document aspects of contemporary life in Victoria. While funding constraints would mean not many of these opportunities could be acted upon, in 1995–6 the photographer Grant Hobson approached the Library with a proposal to document vanishing work practices and industries in Victoria. It would provide evidence of the crisis facing some workplaces in the face of new technology, increasing competition from overseas importers, and in the case of the Anderson & Ritchie iron foundry in Fitzroy, of the effects of urban gentrification.11 A list of representative workplaces and industries was drawn-up by the photographer, and with endorsement from the State Library he was able to document work practices in a wide variety of organisations, including the prison laundry at Pentridge, the Henselite bowls factory in North Melbourne, a supplier of catgut for the manufacture of tennis racquets, and the now largely demolished Hoffman brick kilns in Brunswick. Entitled ‘Old Ways: Disappearing Workplaces’, the documentation of 20 diverse workplaces across Victoria provides a ‘snapshot’ of the state of manufacturing in Victoria at the close of the century.
A similar project has grown from the work of photographer Ian Hill. In 1995 images of the St.Kilda Junction were purchased by the Library from the photographer's folio. While the Picture Collection had images of the old St.Kilda Junction prior to the late 1960s when it was rebuilt, there were no images in the collection that documented how this complicated maze of roads, pedestrian underpasses and tram lines inter-connected. The photographer had also been documenting the construction of the various stages of the Western Ring Road, until the commencement of City Link, arguably the largest road project since the Westgate Bridge.12 Images showing the undercutting of Pascoe Vale Road and the construction of the bridge over the Maribyrnong River at Brimbank Park were also acquired. There were no images in the collection showing the processes involved in the construction

Ian H. Hill, b. 1962, Completed concrete lining in the Burnley tunnel looking East. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned, 1998. [SL -39A], La Trobe Picture Collection.

Ian H. Hill, b. 1962, Removal of glass from final portion of Exhibition Building Annexes. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned, 1996. [LTAF 709 H97.33/5], La Trobe Picture Collection.

of freeways, a phenomenon of the latter half of the century. The photographer uses a 5” × 7” large format camera, and the resulting panoramic quality of the images is most suitable for the documentation of large-scale projects. The Picture Collection has since commissioned Ian Hill to document two recent demolition projects that restored to view two important aspects of the city. The demolition of the annexes of the Royal Exhibition building to make way for the construction of the Melbourne Museum revealed the original building free of its ugly encumbrances, and the demolition of the Gas and Fuel buildings to make way for the Federation Square project restored the pleasing aspect of the fine buildings in Flinders Street from across the Yarra. Both these demolitions were necessary for the construction of major civic projects, and Hill's photographs provide evidence of what will soon be forgotten. Currently the Library has commissioned Hill to document the construction of the massive City Link project. The documentation of this major engineering project directly relates to nineteenth-century images of road and railway construction held in the Collection. The photographer has documented the progress of the Domain and Burnley tunnels under the Yarra River, the site of the new bridge at the mouth of the river, and the Tullamarine Freeway widening project — all areas to which a photographer working without the backing of an institution might not have had access. This documentation is continuing for the life of the project, with more than 70 images to be purchased over five years. In years to come this enormous financial and engineering undertaking will have been fully documented for the benefit of future researchers.
Further retrospective collection-building is also taking place concurrently with our collecting for the future. The purchase of 400 photographs by one of Australia's foremost industrial and architectural photographers, Wolfgang Sievers, 13 has built on our holdings of this photographer's work, the majority of which were gifts received as part of the Bryant and May Archive and the Australian Publicity Council Archive. As a result of this purchase, Victoria's expanding motor car and engineering industries in the 1950s and 1960s are now well documented, as are the interiors and exteriors of important Melbourne hotels and restaurants of the period, such as the Menzies’, Federal Hotel, the Hotel Australia and the Savoy Plaza. This is considered to be the first stage of a continuing acquisition of prints by this photographer, with future acquisitions targeting further Victorian industry and the construction of major projects, including the National Gallery of Victoria and Cultural Centre, the Myer Music Bowl and the Olympic Pool, among others.
The community recognition of the Library's Picture Collection has been aided by its proactive charter, including its role as a commissioning organisation. This has been shown to lead to a heightened awareness of the Collection's acquisition policies in the artistic community. While the collection cannot and would not be able to acquire everything that it may consider important, there is less of a sense that the Library is missing out on developments in the broader community and is being overlooked as a vital and growing documentary resource.
A recent example of this perception is illustrated with the visit to the Picture Collection by a young French photographer, who showed the staff his folio. While his
work clearly fell outside our acquisition policy, we asked him how he knew of the collection and he replied: ‘In Europe everyone knows the great libraries of the world collect images’. The increased computer cataloguing of newly-acquired items and the image-capture of commissioned material where possible, 14 shows evidence of a vital, expanding Picture Collection that continues to be relevant to the community and takes its role seriously. The increased awareness of the collection in our community can only be of benefit.
Michael D. Galimany


Select list of photographic commissions and major acquisitions in the Picture Collection 1978–1998.
Date of Acquisition Artist/Photographer Subject No. of images
1985 Jillian Gibb & Merryle Johnson State Library of Victoria§ 47
1986 Dyranda Prevost Living Places: Twenty Homes § 220
1987 Angela Lynkushka Portraits of 10 cartoonists ¥ 12
1987 Dyranda Prevost Dadds Cake Shop, Richmond 10
1987 Antonia Chaffey Palm Sunday Peace Rally § 10
1988–9 Elizabeth Gilliam Premier's Literary Award Short-listed Authors § 26
1988 Antonia Chaffey Vietnam Veterans International Reunion § 10
1988 Elizabeth Gilliam Vietnam Veterans International Reunion § 18
1988 Dyranda Prevost Flat Fleet De-enactment § 6
1988 Angela Lynkushka Scheherezade Restaurant 30th Anniversary § 6
1988–9 Various photographers Building A Country: The Migrant Experience § 1339
1989 Dyranda Prevost Bulley's Leather traders & Balls' Richmond 7
1989 Merryle Johnson Country Victoria 1982–1983 76
1989 Elizabeth Gilliam David Rankin & Lily Brett § 3
1990 Various photographers Building A Country: Japanese § 219
1990 Rei Zunde Aida at Princes Park, 1989 6
1990 Polixeni Papapetrou Birds of Paradise [portraits of transvestites and drag performers] 7
1990 Angela Lynkushka Tatura Internees Reunion 5
1991 Dyranda Prevost Northcote house § 11
1991 Various photographers Building A Country: Maltese § 431
1991 Elizabeth Gilliam Portraits: Di Gribble & Hilary McPhee, Mirka Mora, Peter Sculthorpe 3
1991 Polixeni Papapetrou Elvis Lives! — Edge of Reality series 10
1991/2 Various photographers Building a Country: Germans§ 235
1993 Elizabeth Gilliam Remembrance, Memory & Life: Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Victoria § 2676
1993 Janet Hawkins Vietnam Veteran's Motorcycle Club on Anzac Day, 1993 6
1993 Viva Gibb Don't shoot darling: 50's revival in Melbourne 25
1994-6 Nina Landis No Entry: Protest in Albert Park 36
1995 Julie Millowick Fryerstown people project 9
1995 Rei Zunde Lang Lang Rodeo and other project 27
1995-8 Grant Hobson Old Ways: Disappearing Workplaces 160
1996 lan Hill Demolition of Exhibition Building Annexes§ 15
1996 lan Hill Demolition of Gas & Fuel Buildings § 10
1997 Ruth Maddison Women over 60 series 1990–91 23
1997/8 lan Hill State Library Forecourt refurbishment § 3
1997- Wolfgang Sievers Documentation of Victorian industry, architecture and the built environment, 1946–1988 411 so far
1997/8 Polixeni Papapetrou Premier's Literary Award Winners, 1997 6
1997-2000 lan Hill City Link construction In process

Wolfgang Sievers, b. 1913, Interior, Cocktail Lounge, Menzies Hotel, Melbourne. Type C photograph, 1965. [LTAF 695 H98.30/395], La Trobe Picture Collection. © Wolfgang Sievers.


A few purchases, such as Liardet's watercolours of early Melbourne, purchased in 1912, were made when funds permitted.


A formal collection development policy was prepared in 1986.


Graeme Johanson worked in the Picture Collection during the 1970s and into the early 1980s and documented many events etc. in his own time.


For a detailed account of this acquisition, see Christine Downer, ‘The Harold Paynting Collection’, La Trobe Library Journal, vol.9, no. 33, April 1984, pp. 6–10.


A detailed discussion of this project can be found in Gunilla Cedrenius, ‘Collecting the Present for the Future: Contemporary Documentation’, Museums Australia, 1985, pp. 12–16.


The inclusion of a high-rise Ministry of Housing apartment was looked on unfavourably by the Ministry itself, but was considered by the Project Co-ordinators to be a housing option for many people and was therefore included.


The inclusion in the exhibition of Howard Arkley's ‘The ritual’, depicting the injecting of heroin, caused the Library to be censured in Parliament by the then Opposition Minister Phil Gude, who stated: ‘When the Library uses public funds for its purchases, it should be on things that uplift the community, not downgrade society.’ (Melbourne Sun, 28 April 1989, p. 17).


The photographers employed on the project were: Dina Dimitrakopoulos, Joyce Evans, Adrian Flint, Elizabeth Gilliam, Anatoly Hue, Angela Lynkushka, Vivienne Mehes, Dyranda Prevost, Bruce Rigby, Emmanuel Santos, John Werrett and Rei Zunde.


The exhibition, ‘Sojourners and Settlers from Japan in Victoria: 1897–1991’, consists of archival commissioned photographs and is available for loan to exhibition spaces that can meet the Library's requirements of security, temperature, humidity and lighting controls. The Maltese and German exhibitions may be borrowed under similar arrangements to the original project.


Due to the nature of some of the experiences of the people photographed, very little from their early life survived.


The Anderson & Ritchie iron foundry in Fitzroy is now the Foundry Lane housing development. A few of the original buildings were retained. The housing was developed by Anderson & Ritchie themselves in 1995.


The Library unfortunately owns no images relating to this project.


Wolfgang Sievers augmented this purchase with the generous gift of several images.


It is only though the commissioning of material that the Library is able to claim the copyright of collection material. Without this, limited rights to display and scan the material onto the Library's Image Database may be negotiated at the time of purchase.


Signifies images commissioned by the State Library of Victoria.


Signifies images commissioned by the State Library of Victoria and the National Library of Australia