Performing Arts Collection
Jay, Harry
Jay, Harry


Berlin-born Harry Jay (1905-1987) started his career as a freelance, press photographer for a major newspaper in Berlin in 1927. As a young man he had studied both physics and chemistry at university, expressing a particular interest in optics.

By the time he arrived in Australia in 1940, he had turned his interests to theatre and had perfected his unique skill in 'actuality' photography, where photos were taken during live performances without a flash. With this breakthrough, it was possible for performers and audiences alike to enjoy shows without interruptions, whilst theatre managers reaped the rewards of cost- effective publicity.

As the Second World War neared, Harry relocated to Vienna and continued his work in theatrical photography. Further political unrest saw him relocate again to Britain, from where he boarded the Duneera and headed for Australia.

In Australia, Harry opened a studio on Collins St. His technique soon impressed the Tivoli's managing director, David N Martin and he was contracted as the theatre's official photographer. Along with portraits and publicity shots of local and international celebrities, mainly taken during dress rehearsal and developed in time for opening nights, Harry Jay captured the thrill of the vaudeville stage, from clowns and acrobat artists to comics, magicians and the controversial nudes. In the years to follow, his services were extended to the Princess Theatre, Wirth's Circus and GTV9.

Coinciding with the introduction of television to family homes in the 1950s, the demand for live theatre began to decline across the country, struggling to compete with this new technology. Harry Jay worked as the Tivoli's photographer for 20 years, until its closure in 1966. He was also known for his interest in recording natural sounds of the Australian bush, as well as taping live Tivoli shows for the theatre's archives.

Collection Holdings

The Harry Jay Photographic Collection was donated to the Performing Arts Collection in 1983.

The vast negative and print collection documents Harry Jay's photographic work from the beginning of his career in Berlin in 1927 through to the closure of the Tivoli Theatre in Melbourne, 1966. The collection comprises images of live theatrical performances and portraits of performers, including Graham Kennedy, Toni Lamond, Helen Reddy and Tikki Taylor, and touring international stars including Margo Z Bomb, Sammy Davis Jr, Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt, Jean Sablon, Sabrina, and Elizabeth Taylor.

The collection of slides of the Sutherland-Williamson International Opera Company in 1965 features Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Elizabeth Harwood, Robert Allman, Spiro Malan and Doris Yarick. Images include stage performances and backstage shots of company members modelling costumes.

News clippings, photographs, programmes, reviews. Theatre / Photography 1955 - 1984