The Bruno Benini photography archive is one of several Australian photography archives acquired by the Powerhouse Museum, and one of the most comprehensive, covering five decades from the 1950s through to 2000.
Bruno Benini, along with Wolfgang Sievers, Mark Strizic, Dieter Muller, Henry Talbot, Helmut Newton and David Mist, was one of a group of influential emigre commercial photographers working in post-war Australia. Born in Italy, Benini migrated to Australia with his parents in 1935. While Max Dupain is recognized as Australia's genius of architectural photography, and Wolfgang Sievers the master of industrial photography, Bruno Benini (1925-2001) is one of Australia's most elegant and refined mid-20th century fashion photographers.
After studying Science at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT University), Benini worked for a brief period for General Motors Holden where he was in charge of the foundry laboratory before returning to Italy, the place of his birth, in the late 1940s. It was there that he made the decision to pursue his love of photography and on his return to Australia joined German emigre photographer Henry Talbot at Peter Fox studios working first as a receptionist and salesman, then as assistant to Talbot. He also learnt the trade by working as a model at various times with Helmut Newton, Athol Shmith and Henry Talbot.
Benini's archive covers over five decades of Melbourne, Australian and international fashion, with strong representation of dress from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The earliest works highlight the coutured elegance of the fifties, but the collection quickly moves into the less restrictive, less tailored, mod and hippy styles of the sixties before confronting the raunchier funkier styles of the 1970s. It then also features sexier disco and club scene wear of the 1980s as well as nude male model portraiture and work done in association with the Nike-dominated 1990s. While many Australian magazines and fashion studios regularly discarded all their old stock and references, the Benini archive provides an invaluable, uniquely comprehensive, reference point for Australian (and international) fashion over these decades.
While the archive relates primarily to fashion photography, it also includes portraiture and more general commercial photography. It consists of around 200 large format photographic prints (vintage and more recent prints), numerous smaller reference prints, several thousand colour transparencies and black and white negatives produced during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and biographical material, including tear sheets, magazine and newspaper cuttings, dating from the 1950s through to the photographer's death in 2001.
Collected by Bruno and his wife Hazel Benini, it also records their working lives together - Bruno as a commercial and fashion photographer, Hazel as a fashion publicist, display stylist and advertising and marketing consultant. It highlights their close involvement with many Australian, and in particular Melbourne, fashion and dress manufacturers and retailers. It also document's Melbourne, and in particular Melbourne's Jewish diaspora's, pivotal role in the production, design, manufacture and retailing of post-WWII Australian fashion.
Many Australian and New Zealand haute couture gowns, niche labels and ready-to-wear brands are represented - from Norma Tullo (the only Australian dress designer to have a boutique outlet in the prestigious Isetan Department store in Tokyo in the 1970s) and Hall Ludlow, to Theo Haskin, Prue Acton, Sharene Creations, Solo, Simona, Mike Treloar, California Productions, Sportscraft, Sportsgirl and others. International fashion labels that were launched onto the Australian marketare also documented including Fiorucchi from Italy and Laura Ashley from England.
Top Australian fashion models, drawn to Melbourne because of it's lively fashion scene, appear in Bruno's photographs - Maggie Tabberer, Janice Wakely, Maggi Eckardt, Susie Cuthbert, Nerida Piggin, Margo McKendry, Bambi Shmith, Helen Homewood and many others.
Many of the photographs and some of the documents relate to Hazel and Bruno's collaboration on assignments like Ninette, Sportsgirl, Sportscraft and Raymond Castles shoes. These provide insight into the photographer's profession and the working lives of people in and around the fashion industry. One small photograph shows Bruno seated on the ground, legs crossed with camera aimed a pair of tightly stockinged legs under a short ruffled skirt. Another of imported Italian shoes taken for the opening of the Raymond Castles shoe store in Melbourne 1973, was art directed by Hazel Benini and photographed by Bruno. Hazel and Bruno collaborated frequently, particularly when the initial client was one established by Hazel. For example, when she was working as the display and advertising manager for the opening of the Sportsgirl stores in 1966 and the Raymond Castles shoe shops in the early 1970s, Bruno then became the photographer.
Fashion photographs are good indicators of social change. By their very nature and purpose, fashion photographs are created and designed to document and promote change by capturing or creating the total look, mood or attitudes of the moment. Within their frames (if they're not shot in the studio which is the case for so many post-WWII photographs) they also frequently document (by capturing) natural, urban, rural, built and interior environments. These images then become highly evocative references to people, places, social, technological, environmental and industrial change at different points in time. With many of Benini's shots also taken overseas, change of another nature is also revealed - that of Australia's complex, multicultural society, it's global aspirations and it's trade, manufacturing and cultural links with the rest of the world.
Not surprisingly, the collection includes non-fashion portrait photography as numerous Australian and visiting actors, writers, artists, dancers, designers and pop singers popped into Bruno Benini's studio to have their portraits taken - perhaps in the hope that he could make them look as gorgeous as the models that appear in Benini's cutting edge fashion photography.
This richly comprehensive, and well documented, commercial photography archive complements other photographic archives acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in recent years including the Alec Murray (2008/18/1), David Mist (92/401/1; 96/44/1), Henry Talbot (93/246/1; 2008/163/1) and Janice Wakely (92/272/1) archives.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator. March 2008.
The Bruno Benini photography archive was produced and collected over many years by Bruno Benini and his wife, Hazel Benini (nee Craig).
Preliminary biography - BRUNO BENINI (1925-2001)
Prepared by Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator. March 2008
1925: Born 17 February, 1925 in Massa Marittima, Tuscany, Italy
1935: Migrates to Australia with his Tuscan family (aged 10) - mother, brother and sister.
Father arrived in Australia a year earlier.
1935- : Secondary education at Rathdowne Street School.
1940s: Studies science/chemistry at the Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT University).
1949: Works as an Industrial Chemist at General Motors Holden.
1949/1950: Travels overseas to Italy, with a stop over in London, and decides to pursue a career in photography.
Early 1950s (date to be confirmed poss 1953): Joins Peter Fox Studios in Collins Street, Melbourne (training under Catherine Perkins and working with Henry Talbot.)
1954 (date to be confirmed): Sets up his own studio/ business in Kew - primary income derived from wedding photography and studio portraits.
1950s: Occassionally working as a fashion model for Helmut Newton, Henry Talbot and Athol Shmith as a means of honing his own photographic skills.
(The Henry Talbot and Janice Wakely photography archives include photographs of Bruno modelling.)
Norman Ikin encourages Benini's photographic activities, and also Hans Hasenpflug who briefly worked with Bruno as a printer.
From 1956: Benini was producing glamorous, high-end fashion photography.
Clients/fashion included Phillipa Gowns, Ninette, La Petit, Hall Ludlow, Potter and Moore, Hall Ludlow, Theo Haskin's Salon Milano, Sutex, Knitcraft, Diamond Cut, Cole of California, Georges, Australian Wool Board and Dominex.
Works with models: Bambi Shmith, Janet Dawson, Helen Homewood, Pauline Kiernan, Leah McCartney, Francine Brown, Kathy Murrell, Wendy List and Lynn Gleeson.
Late 1950s: Travels to London, via New York. Meets up with Helmut and June Newton and Janice Wakely in London. Meets David Bailey and other photographs around Portobello Road and Carnaby Street.
1959: Returns to Melbourne. Meets Hazel Craig (nee Craig, born New Zealand).
1962: Marries Hazel Benini in Melbourne.
1960s: Hazel and Bruno Benini worked together. Bruno moves his studio to various buildings in the city.
Earlier high fashion styles progressively gave way to funkier, younger styles. Photographs appear in fashion magazines and all major Australian newspapers.
1973: Hazel and Bruno travel overseas together - to Sardinia, Florence, Rome, London and Paris.
Clients/fashion include Phillipa Gowns, Georges Imports, Diamond Cut, Arnel, Dominex, Cole of California, Suzie Fergusson, Arnel Fabrics, Sharene Creations, [Bythway] Gown of the Year, Arnel Fabrics, Charlotte 5th Avenue, Jeff Bade, Steven Glass, Hicks Atkinson, Sharene Creations, Jo Bond, Everglaze, Potter and Moore, Everglaze, Sportscraft, Norma Tullo, Sharene, Sportgirl, Adal, Stephen Glass, Villawool, Robert Pierce, Wittner Shoes, Balenciaga, Maglia, John J. Hilton, Norma Tullo, L'Officiel, Holepoof, Noel Jenkin for Harbigs, Ninette, Wool Board.
Works with models: Helen Homewood, Janice Wakely, Anita Hastings, Jenny Ham, Alan Pitkus, Lynn Gleeson, Gillian Montgomery, Margo McKendry, Leah McCartney, Jill Copner, Lynn Richmond, Wendy Mead, Terry Taylor, Ushi Huber, Yvonne Hayes, Robin Garland, Justine Silver, Rosemary Naughton, Anne Hamilton, Carol Townsend, Lorraine Childs, Si Young, Alan Walker, Jan Stewart, Joan Green, Susie Cuthbert, Edith Freeman, Janni Goss, Marg Hanna, Dawn Scott, Gillian Dixon, Wendy Marshall and Maggi Eckardt.
Fashion/clients include Garry Bradley (Jeweller), Ninette, Nutmeg, Sportsgirl, Norma Tullo, Bettina, Lisal Furs, Solo, Gala, Prue Acton, Mike Treloar, Solo's Storm Stopper, 'Emma' for Gala, Ninette, Lurex, Moya Shoes, Nutmeg, Norma Tullo for Holeproof, Concept by Gala, Stiletto the Italian Torch, Laura Ashley, Frenchknit, Ninette, Le Louvre, Coffeys Boutique, Adelaide, Laura Ashley, Fibremakers, Raymond Castles, Le Louvre (Collins St), Ozzie Clarke for Georges, Hiltons Boutique, Batika, Holeproof, Van Roth, Prestige Ltd, Maglia, Bob Leopold (hair), Fiorucci, Yves St Laurent, and Bottega Boutique.
Works with models: Yvonne Goederman, Terry Scott, Sandi Mitchell, Jenny McKenzie, Nola Clark, Anne Brownlee, Dawn Scott, Janice Wakely, Yvonne Rockman, Astrid Corporal, Gael McKay, Jull Hamilton, Kissane Codrington, Robin Fong, Bronwyn Baillieu, Marg Hanna, Sue Rein, Gary Rowland, P. Golding, Jenny Ward, Monica Liebich, Sue Smithers, Robin McBeth, Louise Volke, Marg Hanna, Jackie Holmes, Jill Hamilton, Lori Craig, Julie Wilkinson, Jenny McKenzie, Di Sweeney, Jamayl, Joybelle, Di Sweeney and Finlay Light.
1980s: Continues fashion photography but also undertaking more portraiture, including male nudes.
1990: Closes McKillop Street studio. Continues photographic practise from his home in Fitzroy.
1996: Powerhouse Museum curator meets Bruno Benini and encourages the photographer to collate and document his collection.
1998: Emerging interest in the photographer's work: Benini fashion photographs published in 'PARADE The story of fashion in Australia' by Alexandra Joel (Harper Collins Publishers); Photographs (4) purchased for the newly-refurbished Georges basement brasserie, Collins St, Melbourne (alongside 30 by Athol Shmith); National Gallery of Victoria acquires small group of Benini photographs; and Bruno Benini presents his photograph of the Henry Haskin 'Gown of the Year' photograph to the Jewish Museum, Melbourne as they hold the original dress.
1999: Retrospective, 'Bruno Benini Fashion Images 1956-1976' held at RMIT University Gallery, Storey Hall, Melbourne as part of the Woolmark Melbourne Fashion Festival.
2009: Powerhouse Museum purchases the Bruno Benini archive with support from the Commonwealth Government through the National Cultural Heritage Account.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, interviews and conversations with Bruno and Hazel Benini, Sydney and Melbourne, 1996-1998.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, telephone conversations with Hazel Benini, Sydney/Melbourne, 2007-2009.
Bruno Benini, typed and handwritten annotations on collection contact sheets.
'Bruno Benini fashion images 1956-1976' brochure, RMIT Gallery/France Bourke Textiles Resource Centre, Melbourne, 1999.
Janelle McCulloch, 'glory days', Inside Melbourne, Vol 2 Issue 4, 7 February, 1999 p22