There was once a time when fashion photography was about trying to get a clear, objective, crinkle-free shot of a garment. Now we know it as creating an atmosphere, telling a story and selling an identity. The latter style originated, as these things do, in Europe, but it was pioneered in Australia by Bruno and Hazel Benini.
Italian-born Bruno was a photographer with a wonderful sense of narrative, painterly composition, drama and light. Hazel — a Kiwi, artist and shop window stylist — could put together a Sportsgirl display that would draw crowds of office girls when it was unveiled on a Thursday afternoon. Uniting in the 1950s, they had chemistry to last over 40 years of creative and marital partnership, and their photography, which she styled and he snapped, remains extraordinarily expressive.
The museum recently acquired the personal archive of Bruno Benini, and its curators have assembled this remarkable exhibition on their first sifting. With Sydney Design on around it and Frock Stars alongside, Creating the Look goes even further toward proving that the Powerhouse approach isn't just for kids; it will enrapture and challenge at any age, and the weekend crowd testifies to this mix. Here, crisp photographic prints are not just hung on the wall but given meaning through artefacts, sound bites, rooms that re-create the studio and (most impressively) the dark room and an interpretive, immersive installation by contemporary artist Jean-Francois Lanzarone. The tail end of the exhibition reflects on the Benini legacy through the prism of contemporary fashion photographer Juli Balla, extreme stylist Edward Coutts Davidson, street style maven Fernando Frisoni and the current trend for viral video.
Some Benini photographs have iconic staying power (a gun-toting, shoe-stroking model in niqab, for one), while others pluck at pedestrian '50s nostalgia. They invariably drip with glamour even when advertising mere Sportscraft dresses and Wittner shoes and work a charm even now. Fashion photography is all about creating mystery; the Powerhouse Museum is about stripping it away. The resulting collaboration means letting slip some of the mystique to gain a sense of the impulse of style, the ingenuity of craft and the beauty in the everyday — a fair trade, I'd say.
Catch talks by Fernando Frisoni on Wednesday, August 4, at 12.30pm and Juli Balla on Sunday, August 8, at 2pm.