\WHEN A GROUP of photographers chooses a single initial for their name, it should probably stand for something appropriate: 'M' for 'magazine', perhaps, or 'manual focus' or 'medium format'.
However, the 'M' in Group M, which dates back to the 1950s, stands for 'Moggs Creek', on the Victorian coast southwest of Melbourne. Even less portentously, the original name used by members of the group, many of whom had holiday homes in the area, was the Moggs Creek Clickers.
At a time when photography was booming, thanks partly to the popularity of Life magazine and the development of better films and more portable and versatile cameras, this collection of enthusiasts developed from hobbyists to a group who left an impressive, and historically significant, body of work. They also played an important role in having photography taken seriously, especially by major Australian art galleries.
Members of the group - including Albert Brown, George Bell, John Bolton, Fred Mosse, Roy McDonald, Cliff Restarick, Richard Woldendorp, Harry Youlden and John Crook (who, in the group's early days, worked for Dunlop and used a camera to record the wear on car tyres) - subscribed to firm principles in regard to documentary photography.
Excessive cropping and manipulation of an image was abhorrent to them, and their preference was always to use natural light. In essence, they wanted to leave a lasting record of their time.
Their first exhibition, for which the 'Clickers' became Group M, was held in 1957. It was called Photovision and subsequently became an annual event, held in association with the Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne. Some of the prominent Australian photographers associated with these shows included David Moore (featured in Ed#36l, the 'Boat People' edition), Wolfgang Sievers and Mark Strizic.
Members tackled topics that were tough and sometimes confronting, such as the lives of Indigenous Australians, the mentally handicapped, older people, prisoners and women in the suburbs. An early champion of their work was historian Geoffrey Blainey, who argued almost 50 years ago that historians in the 21st century "would salute a systematic collection of photos on film from the 1960s more than, say, a set of Hansards from the 1960s".
Now, a new exhibition of work by Group M, for which new printing methods have been applied to old negatives, confirms the wisdom of Blainey's words. These are moments in modern Australian social history.
Some of the faces are familiar - PM-to-be John Gorton, Governor-General Casey, visiting Goon Spike Milligan - but mostly these are beautifully composed photographs of ordinary people in their own worlds, captured by artists whose professionalism and sense of commitment exceeded their humble holiday origins.
by Alan Attwood
The Group M exhibition is at the NewNorth Gallery in Fairfield, Melbourne, until 30 October 2010 (see newnorth.com.au).