State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 76 Spring 2005


Daniel Palmer
Tracing the Origins of Australian Fashion Photography

This Paper explores the still largely unknown early history of Australian fashion photography. It emerges from research in the field of social and glamour portraiture between around 1900–1930, undertaken as part of a Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria in 2004. The project involves close scrutiny of popular magazines of the time from the rare books collection, as well as the Library's collection of photographs by sisters May Moore (1881–1931) and Mina Moore (1882–1957) and by Ruth Hollick (1883–1977), who took over Mina Moore's Melbourne photographic studio in 1918.1 One of its aims is to re-examine the contribution to the history of fashion photography made by these and other women photographers who are better known as social portraitists. The research responds to a gap, and offers clues for further work. This essay explores the hypothesis that since early fashion photography is often indistinguishable from portraiture, at a time when theatre functioned as a key medium for the proliferation of clothing trends, portraits of Australian theatrical celebrities constitute an important archive of ‘proto-fashion photography’.2 My focus here is on the social context of fashion-related images produced during World War I, especially those published in the arts and literature magazine The Lone Hand (1907–1921).
Histories of Australian photography that deal with fashion photography usually mark its origins in the pages of The Home magazine in the 1920s or with Athol Shmith in the 1930s.3 The Home, a high quality taste-making journal, was certainly crucial to the development of Australian fashion photography. Self-consciously modern, The Home was a major patron of art photographers in both their guises as ‘amateur’ Pictorialists and as commercial illustrators. Photography came to signal the modern. But as with graphic design, interior design and fashion itself, The Home shows a fluidity of photographic styles – ultimately playing out the full impact of an imported modernist photographic aesthetic in the early work of Max Dupain in the mid-1930s. The important point here is that credited photographic fashion work, in which a photographer is privileged as a creative figure, appears right from the first issue in 1920, in which an editorial announces:
An interesting and considerable section of The Home will be dedicated to the cult of dress, and the best illustrations which art can compass will keep readers in touch with the trend of fashion and last requirements of feminine adornment…. it will employ a special photographic service to record the latest and best achievements in dress, that commerce has been able to make available for Australian wardrobes.4
The Home's first official photographer was Harold Cazneaux, a personal friend of the publisher, Sydney Ure Smith, and well known as a leading Sydney Pictorialist. In the 1920s, for reasons outlined below, his work is elevated above the various women portrait photographers who regularly provided images for The Home – including Ruth Hollick and Pegg Clarke in Melbourne, and Bernice Agar and Judith Fletcher in Sydney.
The Home marks a significant shift in the development of Australian fashion photography as an expressive modern art. However, what we might call its ‘functional’ history stretches further back, emerging out of glamour portraiture in the first decades of the twentieth century. This is an

Harold Cazneaux cover of The Home 2 February 1931. SLTF 052.9 H752 v.12

extremely under-researched area. Indeed, the use of photography in fashion journalism occasionally appears in the late nineteenth century in society newspapers such as Table Talk (1885–1939).5 There, however, given technical limitations, photography was largely used as the basis for woodcuts. Around the turn of the twentieth century, with the refinement of the half-tone process, photographs of society weddings were reproduced in the newspaper, and photographic features such as ‘Seen in Melbourne Streets’ emerge – typically photo-grids of fashionable men and women – or scenes from the Flemington races. However, with isolated exceptions, when advertisements for clothing and department stores appear in print, they remain hand-drawn rather than photographic until at least the second decade of the twentieth century.
Fashion photography, until relatively recently, has been a poorly documented and under-valued genre of photography. With key exceptions, histories of photography tend to be dominated by artistic and documentary practice, with fashion considered too frivolous for serious attention.6 Photography's commercial applications have often been considered in opposition to the aesthetic values that the art world has sought to bestow. Art is a colonising phenomenon in photographic history, selectively incorporating non-art practices into its aesthetic orbit with the values of originality and unique vision ascribed later. In recent years, however, fashion photography has entered the gallery system, and is now widely appreciated for its often ground-breaking use of the medium. Some major international art photographers, such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, are also fashion photographers – as were figures like Man Ray in the past. In Australia, some fashion photography, like the innovative modernist work of Athol Shmith, is well represented in art museum collections and histories. However, obscurity still surrounds Australian fashion photography's broader history. Aside from these images’ ambiguous position as neither art nor historical record, a number of other reasons may be cited. Firstly, the ephemeral nature of the images. Once they had served their practical purpose, they were typically disposed of. The magazines and clients did not keep the photographs, and the photographers themselves often worked in studios and did not retain personal control over the prints. Secondly, the photographers of advertising images are often unknown, a further hindrance to the collecting and classifying of the images by our institutions.
Any search for an origin also forces a question of definition. The search for the origins of fashion photography in Australia is no different, prompting the question: what is fashion photography? The easiest answer we can offer is that fashion photography is photography that illustrates fashion. Nineteenth-century photographic portraits of wealthy socialites and theatrical celebrities are primarily about the individual, but also, often importantly, reveal their clothing. Photographs of fashionable women in the nineteenth century provided models of bourgeois dress for those who aimed at acceptability in middle-class society. Carte-de-visite portraits of theatrical performers and other celebrities, widely distributed from the 1860s, together with postcards, inspired widespread sartorial imitation. However, the term fashion photography is usually reserved for a genre of photography the primary purpose of which is to sell clothing – either itemised and listed as available for sale (editorial) or presented as part of a promotion for a fashion house or brand (advertising). Hence its intimate link with mass print media of newspapers and magazines.
The question of definition becomes more complex, however, when we consider that a
photograph can be used as a fashion photograph even though it was originally taken for another purpose, such as celebrity portraiture. In Australia, the use of photographs in this regard follows similar patterns to those that developed in France, Britain and the United States. The first photography whose primary purpose was to sell clothing seems to have been produced, unsurprisingly, in France during the late nineteenth century following the rise of the designer. Nevertheless, fashion drawings remained the dominant mode of representation in popular international publications, such as Harper's Bazaar, which by the turn of the twentieth century were the primary method of spreading news of fashion trends from Paris. The use of photography in fashion magazines emerged slowly, and did not follow immediately on the heels of the technical development of the half-tone process in 1881, which enabled the reproduction of the even grey tones of photographs in newspapers and other print media. If any single event can be said to have initiated the profession of ‘fashion photographer’, it would be in 1914 when the first full time contract by Vogue magazine in New York was given to the photographer Baron Adolph de Meyer (1868–1949).7 The use of photography should be seen in terms of the rise of a new culture of fashion promotion generally. For example, Parisian couturiers such as Paul Poiret and Gabriel (Coco) Chanel employed novel promotional strategies, such as using well-known people to model their clothes. However, as I will argue below, the use of photography in the promotion of fashion emerges gradually, taking shape under local circumstances.
In order to explore the outlines of some of these local conditions, in the remainder of this essay I want to look more closely at The Lone Hand, and consider its fashion-related photography under three broadly related areas of investigation: the persistence of fashion illustration in Australia, as opposed to fashion photography; the place of Australian women photographers, especially during the period surrounding World War I, in which magazines such as The Lone Hand become increasingly ‘feminised’; and the role of theatrical celebrities in the emergence of what we can call fashion photography. These questions also require some contextualisation within the broader rise of shopping as a leisure activity, together with the development of the modern advertising system in print media.

The Rise of Print Advertising and The Persistence of Fashion Illustration

The years between Federation in 1901 and the outbreak of World War I – the Edwardian Period – were marked by social stability and an economic boom. Australia had recovered from the depression of the 1890s, and social progress was being made. Women, in particular, were given more democratic rights, including the vote, and workers' conditions improved overall. In the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney, this period coincides with the major growth of the retailing industry between around 1890–1930. The department stores led the way in all aspects of retailing, including advertising, which created and stimulated the wants of the growing middle-class population. As in other industrialised nations, advertising and the new leisure activity of shopping belonged to a new culture of mass production and consumption. By the 1890s consumerism reached an unprecedented level – new jobs such as shop assistants were being created and women were filling them. Women, as the managers of the domestic budget, also became the main target of the advertisers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Kugelman's soap advertisement. The Lone Hand 2 May 1910. MC 052.9 L84. La Trobe Rare Book Collecion.

John-Craven Burleigh's ‘True Hair Grower’. The Lone Hand 2 October 1916. SLTF 052.9 L84

The development of modern Australian advertising unfolds on the pages of contemporary popular magazines. Advertisements for common household products such as cocoa, tea, cameras, biscuits and soap appear regularly in the pages of society magazines such as Table Talk, and also in cultural magazines like The Lone Hand. The Lone Hand presented itself as ‘the best of local art and letters’, and is seen as part of the ‘great era’ of Australian magazines following mass literacy in the decades prior – something like a bridge between The Bulletin (indeed, this was its original parent company and J.F Archibald was also its joint founder and, for many years, editor) and The Home (Sydney Ure Smith was also involved in later issues). A monthly magazine with considerable influence, it was certainly the most elaborate magazine produced in Australia prior to The Home. For this reason its advertisements are the focus of my attention here.
To provide a context, it is worth considering the emergence of the fashion-related hygiene and beauty products industry in The Lone Hand. Soap, for example, was quickly transformed from something bought off the block to a magical commodity. Beauty contests were a regular feature of The Lone Hand, starting in October 1907, in which readers were invited to send in their photographs, invariably glamour portraits taken at professional studios. A selection of photographs

Horden Spring Folio. The Lone Hand 2 September 1907. MC 052.9 L84. La Trobe Rare Book Collection.

of contestants was then published in the magazine, and these images were soon adopted by advertisers of such products as soap in order to endorse their products. For example, the winner of the ‘Venus Competition’ in 1913, is pictured at a washstand in an advertisement for Rexona Soap. The photograph is by May Moore, and the winner, Miss Millicent Mahy, is quoted singing the product's praises. Actresses, local and visiting, were especially employed in such multiple contexts. In 1911, actress Miss Ivy Shilling is photographed in a bathing costume in an advertisement for Rexona skin lotion, while photographs from the same series appear elsewhere in the magazine in a feature on the celebrity.
In the area of advertising beauty products, photography and drawing occupied a fluid continuum of representational practice at this time. An advertisement for Kugelmann's ‘pure herbal skin soap’ from the May 1910 issue of The Lone Hand is typical. The hair of the model has been elaborated and thickened with the aid of a pencil. An extreme instance of such dramatic fictionalisation of a photograph is found in an advertisement for John Craven-Burleigh's ‘True Hair Grower’ in the October 1916 issue. The American actress Miss Coy de Trickey (in Sydney performing at the Tivoli theatre) appears in an artistically elaborated photograph by May Moore with thick hair flowing well below her waist. In short, a certain fantastic element appears in advertising photography at its origins, despite the photograph's general claims of ‘authenticity’.8
The first fashion advertisement in The Lone Hand that uses photography, rather than line drawing, appeared in the September 1907 issue, a ‘Portfolio of Spring and Summer Millinery Fashions’ from Anthony Horden and Sons.9 This is a colour insert into the normally black and white publication, an eight-page spread featuring multiple hand-coloured head-and-shoulder photographs. The idea of ready-made clothes had been introduced in the late 1890s, and was now becoming a popular way to shop. Women who lived in the country ordered their clothes from mail catalogues, lavishly illustrated books put out twice a year by the large department stores such as David Jones (these, nevertheless, are illustrated rather photographed until at least the mid-1920s). Curiously, the 1907 photographic portfolio is an isolated incident, and presumably an unsuccessful campaign; Anthony Horden hat advertisements returned to illustration, and photographs are not used again in any fashion advertisements in The Lone Hand until 1910.
Why were hats the first fashion items to be advertised using photography? Part of the explanation is that the hat was such a crucial part of the elaborate ensemble that was Edwardian fashion. As fashion historian Alexandra Joel notes:
Hats were enormously important for the entire first decade of the twentieth century, growing wider and wider until they assumed catherine-wheel-like proportions. They were adorned with feathers, fruit, flowers, ribbons, lace and even stuffed birds or small furry animals. These weighty embellishments were anchored by long, dangerous-looking jewelled hat pins.10
In terms of photography, hats are closely connected to the portrait genre, and viewers were already accustomed to seeing actresses with hats. The subtle variation of the hats perhaps also called for the detailed recording that the camera made available. It is also true that magazine editorials would often comment on the hat worn by an actress featured in their pages. This is also the case internationally; as a young fashion designer, Chanel's reputation was truly established in Paris in 1912 when the widely-read fashion magazine Les Modes published photos of well-known French actresses and artists wearing her hats.

Robert Hurst advertisement. The Lone Hand 2 May 1910. MC 052.9 L84. La Trobe Rare Book Collection.

Gowing Bros. advertisement The Lone Hand 1 June 1910. MC 052.9 L84. La Trobe Rare Book Collection.

In addition to hats, photography was also used to sell shoes before other items of clothing. One fascinating example is a Robert Hurst Shoes advertisement in The Lone Hand in May 1910. This advertisement sits opposite the regular section in the magazine called ‘The Dictates of Fashion’, which began in December 1909, signed by ‘Lynette’. It was to be a regular feature until 1912, when it was replaced by ‘Pages for Everywoman’ – a ‘more responsible women's section’, as one writer has put it – the first article in which was on women and photography.11 ‘The Dictates of Fashion’, placed at the back of the magazine in the advertising section, included fashion notes and ‘write in’ paragraphs (the practice of inserting goods of the Lone Hand's advertisers into paragraphs of topical interest). Opposite the Robert Hurst shoe advertisement is a little note titled ‘A Man Looks First at a Woman's Feet’, and pictured above is a Robert Hurst derby shoe. The advertisement
itself is formally innovative; its montage of multiple photographs combined with hand drawing create the visually striking effect of a woman appearing to stand on top of a shoe factory, with her ‘giant’ shoe being wenched up the side of the building.
Advertisements for dresses and corsets continued to prefer the idealising mode of fashion illustration. One can speculate that advertisers felt that hats and shoes were more sympathetically treated by photography, by virtue of the camera's link to accurate recording. Fashion drawings were preferred for the sale of other clothing, because the drawings were more idealised, transcended the identity of a specific individual, and required the imagination of the viewer. Photographs also called for models, a profession only just in the making. Photographs do not necessarily contain more detailed information, despite the perception of photography as a mechanical medium. Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, photography captured the ‘modern’ age of dress. As fashion historian Elizabeth Wilson has observed: ‘The great promise of photography was that it would tell the “truth”. Yet the “truth” of photography is only a more convincing illusion, selection and artifice lurking behind the seeming impartiality of the mechanical eye. Fashion drawings often give more accurate information, yet it is the photographic image that has captured the feel of modern clothes’.12
The Lone Hand offers many examples of the struggle between drawing and photography for dominance in the representation of fashion. One advertisement for Gowing Bros. suits on the back cover of the June 1910 issue is a dramatic illustration of the perceived role of photography at the time. It shows a hand-coloured photograph of a man sitting on a chair in a suit, and the text reads:
The suit here actually photographed shows how Gowings ‘cut’. If you like this tailoring after noting the ‘points’, how the collar sets, the absence of creases and wrinkles, and the general hang of the suit, send a postcard for self-measurement forms and patterns
The assumption on the part of the advertiser here is that men will appreciate the evidential nature of the photograph, and its capacity to provide the detail of the cut. The same practical logic towards the application of photography perhaps applies to images of sporting clothes from Grace Bros, in The Lone Hand in February 1917. Nevertheless, the 1910 advertisement may have been a failure; Gowing Bros. returned to advertising men's suits with line drawings in The Lone Hand right up to 1919. Ironically, however, it is the first clear-cut example of Australian fashion advertising photography I have been able to find.

The Photographer as Artist and the Place of Women Photographers

The contribution of women photographers to the early history of Australian fashion photography is significant.13 Nevertheless, with the increasing aspiration of photographers to the status of ‘artist’, women's achievements have been somewhat marginalised. While it is not possible to do so fully here, women photographers’ central role in the development of the photography of fashion must be situated within the context of the simultaneous democratisation and rarification of photographic practice in the context of the Australian Pictorialist movement. I refer to the rise of amateur photography in the wake of the Kodak revolution, and the related transformation of serious amateurs into artists. The photographic journals that began to appear towards the end of the nineteenth century were, to a certain extent, supportive of women photographers operating professionally. Nevertheless, a ‘feminine aesthetic’ was often constructed – for example, it was

Kodak Girl. Australasian Photographic Review, 23 January 1911. A 770.5 AU7P v. 18

regularly argued that women were naturally best suited to photographing children.14 Thus, for instance, Ruth Hollick is well known for her portraits of children while her professional fashion work in the 1920s has tended to be neglected until relatively recently.
At the same time, as many writers have identified, the practice of amateur photography was systematically pitched at women from the 1890s. As contemporary advertisements clearly show, women were presented as both ideal subjects and practitioners of such photography. In an ‘Austral’ photographic portrait competition of 1912 in Australasian Photographic Review, for instance, the first three prize winners are photographs of women by men; only the fourth-place winner is photographed by a woman, and hers is a photograph of children. However, the same magazine's November 1911 issue was evidently being browsed by enough women readers to justify Anthony Hordern's full-page advertisement for their summer fashion blouses. (Even in a photographic journal, however, the images were hand-drawn rather than photographed!) The well-known image of the Kodak Girl aimed to colonise the new leisure time of the fashionable middle class woman. With her free-flowing dress and newfound mobility, in Australia as in other Western nations, she embodied the ‘new woman’ – the relatively financially independent woman who attained mythical cultural status in the 1920s as the ‘flapper’.
The requirements of fashion photography, in terms of space and lighting, were identical to those needed for portraiture. And photographic portraiture was rapidly aspiring to the status of art. The Pictorialist photographers – notably John Kauffmann in the field of landscape and Walter Barnett at Falk Studios in Sydney before he left for England – had helped legitimate the expressive potentials of artistic photography. The possibility that a photographer might adopt a unique style was increasingly being recognised. For instance, in The Lone Hand in June 1910 an article in ‘The Dictates of Fashion’ section titled ‘A Fascinating Photograph’ praises the new portrait style of Lafayette Studios in Melbourne, and their ability to produce ‘a real “picture” effect’:
this artistic firm can produce a most alluring picture… Harsh, crude and staring photographs which glare at you from out their frames are things of the past. The up-to-date sun artist knows how to pose his sitter, and suggests little touches as to hair and dress, which greatly help the general effect. That ‘sitting-for-my-photo’ expression is quite abolished. (p. xviii)
As if to emphasis this attention to photographic style rather than the sitter, the accompanying photograph is captioned ‘A Dainty Picture by Lafayette, Melbourne’. We are left with a reflection on form – photographic and sartorial – rather than the identity of the sitter. In October of the same year, an advertorial on Lafayette positioned near a full-page advertisement proposes that:
perfect portraiture today, which in Australasia is synonymous with Lafayette, is a thing to be taken seriously. The improved taste of the present day demands in photography a fine blending of nature and art. The photographer of past years was a tradesman. To-day he must be an artist. (p. xxx)
It is in this context that Cazneaux's elevation as the fashion photographer of the 1920s is produced, and also through this process that the apparently more mundane work by photographers of the 1910s was neglected. Although women photographers were often applauded on their sensitive taste, the status of professional artist usually eluded them – especially after the consolidation of the Pictorialist aesthetic and the professionalisation of fashion photography following the return of men from the Great War.

World War I

The period surrounding World War I (1914–18) is especially illuminating for considering the evolution of Australian fashion photography. Fashion occupied more of The Lone Hand after war broke in July 1914, owing to the change in domestic readership. Women's ‘interests’ took up an increasingly large part of the magazine, a ‘feminisation’ of content that is noticeably reflected on the covers – which increasingly sought to attract women readers through glamorous hand-coloured photographic portraits of visiting stage celebrities. The disruption of war caused a sudden plummet in the popularity of current periodicals. Competition for readers' attention was also growing from the burgeoning motion picture industry. The War had a dramatic effect on the social lives of women. While domestic service had been the main occupation of working women before the war, during the war women had a taste of relative freedom and financial independence through working in shops, industry and transport services, usually for better wages than they had earned as servants. The women's suffrage movement was already highly active in the first decade of the twentieth century, with women gaining the right to vote in Australia with Federation (and some magazines, like The Lone Hand, offering space and support for women's voices). It is widely accepted that the socio-economic changes that occurred during the War changed the role of women in a way that no amount of campaigning could achieve.
As women went to work during the Great War, many gained a new earning power, and made the most of it in terms of fashion. Despite calls for modesty and restraint, thousands purchased evening gowns from department stores, and boots enjoyed a new vogue. Mass uniform production with its accompanying mass production techniques had benefited clothing manufacture. The increased difficulty in importing also produced an impetus for local manufacturing. Women photographers benefited, too. There were, in fact, many Australian women photographers working before World War I, and even more were involved in repetitive hand-colouring and darkroom roles (at the main studios, the camera operators were almost always men). The New Zealand-born Moore sisters, Mina in Melbourne, and May in Sydney, were two of the better-known women among the studio portraitists of their day.
During World War I one of the rituals in an Australian soldier's life was having his portrait taken prior to embarkation for the battlefields. Since the production of quality photography in this period was still dominated by professional photographers, this usually involved a visit to a reputable photographic studio. During 1917, May Moore regularly took out full page advertisements on the highly visible inner front cover of The Lone Hand, featuring soldier portraits in the Moore sisters’ recognisable Rembrandt lighting style – which left much of the picture in rich dark brown tones and picked out the main profile or features with a thin shaft of light from one side. These advertisements seem to have paid dividends with the magazine, as May Moore was featured in the November 1917 issue and her portrait photographs graced the front cover of the April, May and June 1918 issues.15

The Place of Theatre

Alexandra Joel has suggested that by 1900 the stage was beginning to take over from society in matters of style in Australia.16 In fact, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the

Talma & Co., photographers. Nellie Stewart. ca. 1910. Gelatin silver photograph with hand colouring. Elsie Thorp postcard collection of theatrical and literary portraits. H37081/29. La Trobe Picture Collection.

relationship between the fashion and theatre worlds was one of mutual interdependence – crucially mediated by photography. I have already referred to the use of actresses in product endorsement. In the quest for publicity, actresses from the world of theatre or variety were often asked to pose in designer gowns. For instance, Australia's first major theatrical celebrity, Nellie Stewart, who maintained her popularity as an actress and fashion leader for close to forty years, was regularly featured on cheap, widely-distributed postcards. The State Library of Victoria has a large collection of postcards of Nellie Stewart, by all the major photography studios of the day. Her most famous role was Sweet Nell of Old Dury (c. 1909). Joel notes that the Nell Gwynn hats she wore for the part ‘were up to a metre wide, built on wire and covered in feathers. The public rushed to copy them.’17
In the pages of The Lone Hand in the 1910s, we witness an extraordinary hunger for detailed description of clothing. Theatrical reviews, and other written accounts of stage celebrities, describe frocks in the minutest detail. Unlike today, this emerging desire was only just being supplemented by the descriptive powers of photography. Fashion photography, then, responded to and fuelled a desire to know more about the clothes of influential women, actresses in particular, as well as international fashions (the latest gowns from Paris). As I have suggested above, this reached a certain crescendo during World War I, when actresses increasingly appeared on the front cover of The Lone Hand, and features were produced on actresses and their clothes. Vera Pearce, for example, was featured in August 1915 in an article titled ‘Miss Vera Pearce And Some of Her Frocks’.
The role of the theatre in disseminating fashion taste was fundamentally different from what it is today, with powers far exceeding Hollywood. Opening nights were comparable to a fashion parade of today – or perhaps the Academy Awards ceremony. In April 1916, a new regular column in The Lone Hand, ‘Lady Betty Modish's Letter’, described the latest turn at the Tivoli Theatre, Twelve Minutes Out of a Fashion Book. The description is laced with descriptions of the clothes, and reveals that ‘We have any amount of frocking all more or less startling, and can give you plenty of changes’. In short, the theatre was widely understood to function as a medium for fashion promotion, as the following extract, titled ‘Who is Dame Fashion?’, reproduced from London's Vanity Fair in the October 1915 ‘Pages for Everywoman’ section of The Lone Hand, suggests:
Perhaps Fashion can best be described as a sort of democracy. The ever-changing styles are devised by the great couturiers, sometimes at the instigation of valued customers, but generally of their own accord. They make use of actresses for the purpose of submitting on the stage their crude and often vulgar designs, for the approval of the feminine public in the plays that are produced at the opening of each season. Then the fashions are toned down, and refined by the leaders of society, who, pruning them of everything that is contrary to the laws of elegance and good taste, issue them, thus edited, to the world.
This top-down philosophy of the dispersal of fashion taste is a model of the fashion system as understood in 1915, and indicates the crucial promotional role played by theatre. Once we understand this, we are in a better position to understand the importance of theatrical portrait photography and its links with fashion photography in the period before the glamour of Hollywood style dominated in the 1930s.
In the May and Mina Moore archive at the State Library of Victoria, there are many glamorous images of actresses – some of which might have also functioned as fashion photographs. Unfortunately, for the most part we can only speculate as to their use. We are also left
with the impression that their archive is biased towards portraits of famous people, as opposed to their more ephemeral magazine work. There is one suggestive image that at least gives us an indication of the centrality of the clothing to the portrait business. This is a photograph signed by May and Mina Moore but probably made by May Moore in Sydney, of the actress Evelyn Kerry c. 1910–1913. It is a full-length portrait of the woman standing in long gown; as if to emphasis the importance of the dress, the photograph has been carefully hand cut around the train of the garment, which extends out over the edge of the photograph [see back cover].
Historians have tended to ignore pre-modernist fashion photography, of the period before the 1920s, because it is more difficult to categorise, and also because there is seemingly little of the transfiguring power necessary for fashion photography to be considered as art. The subjectivity required for the modern expressive artist is apparently absent, and the images enslaved to mere denotation – or describing the clothes – rather than personalised connotation.18 However, as I hope to have demonstrated here, this work, while often uncredited and hence somewhat adrift in the print and picture archives, can offer revealing insights into the practice and reception of photography and consumer culture more broadly. I have suggested we might call this earlier work a kind of ‘proto-fashion photography’: floral Edwardian hats in 1907; shoes in ‘surrealist’ montage advertisements in 1910; a man's suit in 1910; occasional images of women's sports clothes; and, of course, selected instances of the ubiquitous theatrical portrait. These images, while they may not in themselves seem glamorous, are to be valued for their place at the origins of Australian fashion photography, not least for the alternative histories they can help to make visible.

Helmut Newton, photographer. Sheli House Journal June 1958. Shell Collection. La Trobe Picture Collection.


The State Library of Victoria is a rich place to consider the early history of Australian fashion photography. An initial motivation to conduct this research was the knowledge that the SLV was receiving a collection of over 600 negatives from the National Gallery of Australia by the portraitist Ruth Hollick, to supplement an existing holding of over 500 works donated by Hollick's niece and studio assistant in 1993. I was already aware that the SLV held a large collection of images by May and Mina Moore (in the May & Mina Moore Archive).


For a history of Australian fashion more generally, see Alexandra Joel, Parade: The Story of Fashion in Australia, Sydney, Harper Collins, 1998.


See Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia, 1839–1988, Canberra, Australian National Gallery, and Sydney, Collins Australia, 1988; Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia: A History of Photography, North Ryde, Angus & Robertson, 1988; and Isobel Crombie, Athol Shmith Photographer, Melbourne, Schwartz Publishing, 1989.


The Home, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1920, p.3.


Margaret Maynard briefly touches on this period in ‘Representing Style: Fashion Photography’ in Out of Line: Women and Style in Australia, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2001, pp. 92–93. She also notes an isolated 1889 instance of commercial fashion photography in the Brisbane magazine, The Princess: A Lady's Newspaper, by photographer Paul Poulson.


Recent publications have redressed this neglect. See, in particular, Nancy Hall-Duncan, The History of Fashion Photography, New York, Alpine, 1979, and Martin Harrison, Appearances: Fashion Photography Since 1945, London, Jonathan Cape, 1991.


Vogue's transformation after 1909, under its new owner Condé Nast, marks an important moment in the origins of fashion photography. Vogue quickly moved from being a New York society journal to a magazine devoted to clothing for the elite, and fashion photographs soon began to displace hand-drawn illustrations.


It is worth noting that at this time, new ‘autogravette’ negatives were being promoted to amateur photographers – by which process light, sketchy drawing effects of generically tasteful domestic backgrounds could be superimposed behind portraits taken against a white background.


I was initially alerted to this example through Annabel Dent's unpublished research paper (1995) held in the National Gallery of Australia Library. Thanks to Gael Newton for drawing this to my attention.


Joel, Parade, p.44.


Kit Taylor, A History with Indexes of The Lone Hand, The Australian Monthly, Melbourne, J.B. Hobbs, 1977, p.35.


Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2003, p. 158.


The significant contribution of Australian women photographers generally is detailed in Barbara Hall and Jenni Mather, Australian Women Photographers 1840–1960, Melbourne, Greenhouse Publications, 1986.


See Julie Wainwright, Australian Women in Photography 1880–1914, University of Sydney (Power Institute) Honours Thesis, 1985.


May Moore was featured as ‘A Well-known Photographer’ in the ‘Pages for Everywoman’ section of The Lone Hand, 1 November 1917, pp. 498–9.


Joel, Parade, p.49. As Joel notes, a sign of the stage's influence was the adoption of cosmetics. The Polish émigré to Australia, Helena Rubinstein, met with enormous success on the launch of her famous cream, Crème Valaze, demonstrating the lengths that Australian women would go for a clear complexion.


Joel, Parade, p.48.


See Mick Carter, ‘Fashion Photography: The Long, Slow Dissolve’ in Photofile, Autumn 1987, pp.5–7. The distinction, of course, is borrowed from Roland Barthes.