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50 years of Australian fashion: inside the Bruno Benini archive

In fashion, photography on 12 July 2009 at 4:07 pm

Benini 1

Bruno Benini was a pioneering Australian fashion photographer, bringing a European elegance to the field from the post-war period right through until his death in 2001. Together with his wife, Hazel, who played an important role in styling the photos, the Beninis were central, glamorous figures in Melbourne’s cultural scene for 50 years, documenting not just fashion through his commercial work, but also leading players in the world of arts and entertainment through portraits.

Photo N¼: 00x11085Left: Pauline Kiernan in a strapless evening sheath by Theo Haskin of Salon Milano, 1956. Right: Bambi Shmith (Patricia Tuckwell) in Hall Ludlow’s ‘Magpie’ tunic, 1957

His body of work was recently acquired by Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. Design and Society curator, Anne-Marie Van de Ven, targeted the archive for acquisition back in 1996. “I knew it documented post-war dress design and manufacture,” she says. “What delights me is the scope and depth of photographic representation of the clients, like Ninette and Solo, and the models like Janice Wakely, Maggie Tabberer, Jan Stewart, Nerida Piggin and Maggi Eckardt.”

Benini 3Curator Anne-Marie Van de Ven with part of the Benini archive still in its shipping crate.

While Van de Ven is still coming to terms with the sheer volume of material, her first count puts it at about 250 prints, including blow-ups Benini used to decorate his studio’s entrance, thousands of contact prints, and 26 boxes of negatives, with many 4″ x 5″ format, organised by subject matter. In addition, there are six large scrapbooks of Benini’s editorial work, as well as posters, catalogues and brochures.

Benini 4Boxes of negatives and transparencies.

Running parallel to the fashion work, well known through its reproduction in newspapers of the day and magazines like Vogue and Flair, are other series which predate similar work by the American Robert Mapplethorpe: male nudes, including African and African-American men, and flowers. Much of this work may never be seen, however, as it only exists as negatives; scanning and reproducing the images depends on finding sponsorship to begin the project – a real opportunity for a savvy tech company or publisher to get on board now.

Benini 5Left: Jan Stewart models a Sportsgirl dress, 1966. Right: for Bottega shoes, 1976.

Anne-Marie Van de Ven will be talking about her insights into the Bernini archive on Wednesday 5 August at the Powerhouse Museum from 12.30pm to 1.30pm. Her special guests will be some of Benini’s models. The talk is free with museum entry.

Benini 6Advertising shot for the Italian hosiery brand Rede.

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