Performing Arts Collection

The Performing Arts Collection of photographs spans decades of Australian entertainment history. Comprising an enormous archive of images in print, negative, transparency and digital formats, these photographs are collected primarily to document and provide an insight into all aspects of the performing arts.

Images of people - performers, directors, designers, technicians and audience members - of performance venues, productions and behind-the-scenes moments, all capture static glimpses of an industry that centres on the transitory and intangible moment of the performance.

Photographs play an important part in illustrating each of the collecting areas (Theatre, Opera, Dance, Music, Circus and supporting areas of TV, Film, recording and Radio). Around 15,000 prints are housed in the General Photographic Series files, while other images contribute to collections focusing on specific companies or personalities. The Performing Arts Collection has also acquired discrete collections of work by individual photographers who specialised in performing arts photography - John Timbers (Barry Humphries / Dame Edna Everage), Harry Jay (Tivoli), Laurie Richards (Radio, TV, Pop stars) Kathleen O'Brien (Melbourne Rock Scene), Ponch Hawkes (Circus), Jeff Busby (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company and Sydney Dance Company), Shellie Tonkin (Big Day Out, Melbourne Gigs).

Dominant throughout the photographic collection are portraits.  Although photographic portraits in the collection are not restricted to performers, this group is certainly in the majority. Since the development of carte de visite (visiting cards) in the 1860s, photographic portraits have been widely available to both subjects and collectors. The collection has both large scale photographs as well as the mass produced postcards which were avidly collected by fans. In the mid-twentieth century technical developments in photography enabled live performance in a theatre environment to be recorded accurately by the camera. Such photographs give an immediate impression of a performance - sets, costumes, expressions and movements. Often taken prior to the official run of a show, production photographs are used for promotional purposes, giving potential audiences a taste of what they might see. In the longer term, these photographs remain as a record of the performing arts.

Photographs of live rock and pop music scene are particularly important in capturing a sense of atmosphere in performance photography. The informality of the environment is shown not only by the musicians, but also often the reaction or interaction of the audience. In turning the camera on the fans, the ordinary person with time-specific clothing and hairstyles, adds another dimension to performing arts history.

Photography is also used to document that which surrounds the actual performance. Photographs of venues, rehearsals, touring and group shots taken to commemorate a particular cast or occasion, all build up our understanding of a specific time and place. For companies, photographs can serve a practical function in recording details about production continuity or re-staging.

Informal, spontaneous photographs can give an insight into behind-the-scenes life. Images taken by those who inhabit the world of the performing arts capture moments of personal experience. Whether backstage, in dressing rooms, in rehearsal or on tour, these are snap shots of friends and family, created initially for the purpose of individual memory. Viewed within a historical context, however, they offer clues to the realities of performing. It is the honesty of these images and the lack of controlled formality that can make these photographs a valuable historical resource.

Major Photographic Collections

The Australian Ballet Photographic Collection

A notable photograph in this collection is one featuring Pavlova and her company of dancers taken just four weeks before Pavlova died. The photograph features Edouard Borovansky, Leon Kellaway and Algeranoff who all played an important role in the growth of ballet in this country. Images  of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Borovansky Ballet, Robert Helpmann, Margot Fonteyn, Marilyn Jones, Garth Welch , Kenneth Rowell  and other icons of ballet are to be found in this collection.

Bell Shakespeare Company Photography Archive

The Bell Shakespeare Company has been conscientious in documenting its performances and rehearsals through the photographs of Branco Gaica, Seth Raman, Aranus Klupsas, Jeff Busby and others.  In colour and black and white, the doings of   Macbeth, Richard III, Pericles have been caught by the photographer, the collection now containing hundreds of images of this seminal theatre company.

Laurie Richards Collection

This is an archive of over 28,000 original negatives from the business of Mr Laurie Richards, a professional photographer who worked extensively in Melbourne during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. His business specialised in advertising and public relations. Clients included Television and Radio networks, photographing Australian celebrities including The Seekers, Graham Kennedy, John Farnham as well as International personalities, The Beatles, Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye and many more.

Colvin, Robert
For nearly a decade Melbourne-based photographer Robert Colvin received requests from a range of comedians to document their acts. Beginning with the opening of the Comedy Café in 1979, Colvin photographed some of Australia’s most successful comedy performers of the 1970s and 1980s.
Hawkes, Ponch
Ponch Hawkes has been a member of Circus Oz since its inception in 1978, working as a resident lighting designer and the company’s photographer. Hawkes has also been commissioned by Chamber Made Opera, Melbourne Workers Theatre and Malthouse Theatre, all of which are represented in the Performing Arts Collection.
Jay, Harry
Berlin-born Harry Jay (1905-1987) started his career as a freelance, press photographer for a major newspaper in Berlin in 1927. Collection holdings include news clippings, photographs, programmes, reviews. Theatre / Photography 1955 - 1984.
Lawrence, Michel
The Performing Arts Collections holds a series of 79 photographs of Melbourne based performers taken by Michel Lawrence between 1978 - 1985.
Lowery, Margaret "Meg"
Meg Lowery was a photography student in the early 1970s. She obtained permission from Garry Van Egmond, director of Harry M. Miller Attractions, to photograph the Melbourrne production of the ground-breaking rock musical "Hair" in 1971.
McBean, Angus
Angus McBean (1904 – 1990) was considered ‘court’ photographer by the British theatre world, capturing most productions in the West End and at the Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Covent Garden, and the Royal Shakespeare Company from the 1930s up until the rise of ‘kitchen sink’ drama in the late 1950s.
Milne, Peter
Melbourne-born Peter Milne is a documentary photographer notable for capturing icons of the Melbourne comedy scene from the 1980s to the 1990s. Black and white photographs by Peter Milne. Photography 1980s - 1990s.
Morley, Lewis
Born in Hong Kong in 1925, Lewis Morley first visited Australia in 1940, eventually emigrating in 1971. In 1959 he photographed Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance for the Royal Court and subsequently over 100 West End productions, including its up-and-coming young stars Susannah York, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Anthony Hopkins.
O'Brien, Kathleen
Kathleen O'Brien worked as a freelance photographer for the Australian rock journals, RAM, JUKE and Rolling Stone from 1977 to 1981. Collection holdings include negatives, proof sheets, prints. Popular / Rock 1970s - 1980s.
Postle, Bruce
Bruce Postle was born in Brisbane in 1940 and followed his father into press photography to become one of the country’s most respected photojournalists. For over 50 years he has taken thousands of celebrated and iconic images.
Richards, Laurie
The Laurie Richards Collection contains Negatives and logbooks. Popular Entertainment 1950s - 1970s
Timbers, John
Timbers photographed all areas of the arts, but his first involvement with the stage was working alongside Orson Welles, who was directing Laurence of Olivier in the 1960 production of Rhinoceros. Collection holdings include photographs of Barry Humphries and his alter egos. Theatre (Photographer) 1973 - 1997.
Tonkin, Shellie
In 1996 Arts Centre Melbourne commissioned Tonkin to photograph Melbourne’s burgeoning inner-city independent music scene for a Next Wave Festival project called Out there: images at the edge of Melbourne’s music scene.