Cindy and Caroline and Gwyned


Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21. 1978

This is the first Cindy Sherman photograph I ever saw. Lecturer Norbert Loeffler showed it in a 1983 class at PSC and I was probably the only student that really got it. Sherman’s idea of pop culture play-acting was a new idea to us, but I understood the reference she was making so the picture made sense.

Sherman was referencing the postwar phenomenon of the young career woman starting out in the man’s world of business in New York. This new social type attracted press attention and appeared in literature and film.


Hope Lange in The Best of Everything, 1959

The image Sherman had in mind was this, actress Hope Lange playing an aspiring secretary in the 1959 movie The Best of Everything. Note the similarity of costume. Lange arrives at a company address clutching a job ad that says “Secretaries – you deserve the best of everything”. She soon learns that working for Joan Crawford is less than the best.

Lange is looking up at the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, itself a newcomer to the city. Designed by Mies van der Rohe it opened only the year before and was already the trendiest office address in Manhattan. This modern young woman is starting in the most modern address. Behind her you can see the other great prototype of International Style architecture, Lever House, 1952.



Greg Neville, tram stop ad, November 2014

Recently, this tram stop ad appeared in Melbourne, the 1950s iconography intact. The young upwardly-mobile career woman is still surrounded by menacing but exciting skyscrapers. This time it’s in black & white, giving a photojournalistic reality to the photograph.

The origin story for this narrative of female empowerment was this edition of Life Magazine published just after World War II.


Life Magazine 1948, photograph by Leonard McCombe

Staff photographer Leonard McCombe followed a young graduate from Missouri university, Gwyned Fillig,  as she made her way in the wilds of New York. She worked as copywriterin a Madison Avenue ad agency. The article is a classic Life Magazine photo essay, treating the subject as an anthropological study. Fillig is seen in her “native habitat” at work, at the diner and at home.




Gwynid Fiilig’s story caused a sensation in 1948 and briefly made her a celebrity. She became the representative example of the educated, aspiring young professional woman. Her story was typical of thousands of similar women at the time, especially in one unfortunate detail. The year after the article was published she got married and was immediately sacked from her job. Company policy was to have no married women on staff.


Edmund Pearce closes

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Very sad news that Edmund Pearce gallery is closing today. After three years, the directors Jason McQuoid and Tim Bruce have decided that Melbourne will not support a commercial gallery dedicated to fine photography. They gave it their best shot, Edmund Pearce is by a long way the best photography gallery that Melbourne has seen.

The closure will leave a big hole in the photography scene, and not just of Melbourne. Artists that have shown there have been from interstate and overseas, including the current show by the New Zealand artist Beckon, and notably by New York’s Phillip Toledano and Amy Stein.

I was privelaged to show twice at Edmund Pearce, this year with my exhibition Burn, and in 2013 with Chemistry of Chance, a collaboration with Greg Wayn.

The current exhibitions demonstrate why it’s such a pity to lose the gallery. Three exhibitions showing interesting, new and well-made photography by four artists, New Zealand’s BreckonKatherine Griffiths and Arini Byng & Georgia Hutchison.


Breckon, Basin II, 256 Fergusson Drive, 2014


Katherine Griffiths, Erin #1, 2011


Arini Byng & Georgia Hutchison, Dunes, 2014


Con’s Cyprus stories


Tales of Cyprus is an exhibition by Melbourne illustrator Con Emmanuelle. It runs at Prahran’s Chapel off Chapel gallery until December 20, and then January 5-11.

Con himself is a Greek Cypriot long resident in Australia, and his exhibition is a hommage to the island and its culture. “As an artist I have been drawn to my parent’s homeland of Cyprus and in particular, its unique cultural heritage and traditions.”

The exhibition is in two parts, Con’s own artistic works, and a historical section that researches old family photographs. Con has spent several years interviewing Australia’s Cypriots and uncovering their often faded and torn family photographs.

In the exhibition these are enlarged to a scale that permits close inspection and they are combined with detailed stories about their subjects. It is an opportunity to look deeply into the faces of strangers and learn their stories.

Look at these pictures of a school set up in Nicosia in the 1930s by a Turkish Cypriot trained at Oxford. He was a lone operator dedicated to spreading the appreciation of English literature and the classics. He named it the Shakespeare School. Now look at the faces in the class photo, a remarkable array of human expression. And look at the eyes. Photography has a power unequaled by the other arts, to put you in contact not just with the abstraction of humanity but with the reality of individuals.

In his book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, the philosopher Roland Barthes muses that “the essence of the Photograph could not be separated from the “pathos”. I was like that friend who turned to photography only because it allowed him to photograph his son. I was interested in Photography only for “sentimental” reasons: I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel…”






Learn more on the Tales of Cyprus blog.




Direct Positive


Greg Neville, Prahran abstract, 2014

This photograph was made in a 5×4 pinhole camera loaded with Harmann Direct Positive paper. The subject is a sunlit wall seen through a window.

Harmann Direct Positive is a fibre-based paper that gives you a positive print without the negative stage. Development is in normal print chemicals. The paper is rated at 3 ISO, so the f128 aperture needed a four minute exposure. A curious feature is that longer exposure time results in lighter images rather than darker, as habit would tell you. The extreme contrast is typical when using darkroom papers exposed in daylight. And being an image from the camera, it’s mirror-reversed.

Unfortunately the paper is currently unavailable from Ilford. Legal difficulties with the defunct Harmann Switzerland mean supplies are unlikely in “the medium term.” Let’s hope it’s resolved.

To demonstrate the potential of this paper, Serbian photographer Braca Nadezdic has made a series of portraits on Harmann paper, rated at 1.5 ISO.