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The Photographer's Party

More about the Photographers Party 1978

Gael Newton AM

The 1978 text (slightly edited in 2022) for a magazine article , probably Australian Photography,
published by James Coleman c late 1978- early 1979.



David Moore rear photographing Athol Shmith and David Potts, rear left


Saturday October 7th 1978 was the occasion for a ‘Get Together’ for professional photographers at the home of David Potts in Sydney. The original idea suggested was for a reunion for old staff from Russell Roberts display team. As these events are want to do, the party quickly grew to encompass associates, contemporaries and finally all notable photographers working in photo-illustration between 1930 and the 1950's.

The party was hosted by David Potts and organised by the author using notes and addresses from a research project on photo Illustration 1920–1960 precious copies of Australian Photography 1947 and 1957 annuals provided lists of names to rung up for the post-war period. Russell Roberts turned up a list of photographers who had been part of his team at one time or other.

Russell Roberts Ltd began in 1931 when Roberts moved over from selling advertising space for Sydney Ure Smith's magazine 'The Home’, into designing and co-ordinating complete advertising layout and displays.

The firm grew quickly to a remarkable size for a dedicated commercial photo illustration studio in those early days. Architects draftsmen, artists, interior designers and layout staff were all involved with producing large photomurals that were the firm’s specialty and a popular display technique of the time.

Perhaps the peak of Russell Rpberts Ltd activity were the murals done for the New York World’s Fair in 1938–1939. One of the author's cherished dreams Is the hope of perhaps finding intact some of these wonderful murals of the 1930's and 1940’s.

Russell Roberts Ltd folded in the early years of WW2 but its historic place as possibly the first real advertising studio in Australia is assured.

Back to the party. The guests were too numerous to list here. Honoured guests were Russell Roberts, Athol Shmith and Wolfang Sievers from Melbourne. Max Dupain, Laurie La Guay and David Moore, among others from Sydney. Max Wilson and David Moore photographed the event that was raging success.

Some particular gems of the evening are shots of Russell Roberts, Max Dupain, Laurie Le Quay, Athol Shmith, Min Sievers in the kitchen with linked arms. The mind shudders at how many images this group must have produced in their careers. They are worth their weight in silver!

Apart from being a wonderful evening for old friends or associates to get together, the party was part of a program now going back about two years in which I have tried to become familiar with what has happened in Australian photograph over the years. A concurrent project is researching the Pictorial era of Harold Cazneaux in the earlier decades of the century.

This work has come about through the Art Gallery of New South Wales belatedly but timely inclusion of photography into its collections in late 1975, with the acceptance of a gift of 90 photographs from the Cazneaux family. Since that time a good representation of Cazneaux's contemporaries has been built up.

A particularly pleasing acquisition was the Sydney Camera Circle’s own collection of pictorial work by its members and the F.C. Tilney Gift Collection of overseas pictorialists. Included in the latter were a fine set of platinum prints by Frederick Evans and several oil transfers by Robert Demachy.

Norman Deck has also made a generous gift to the Gallery his prints and negatives. In the last 16 months it has been possible to turn to the post pictorial era. It was a surprise to discover that tracking down photographers from that era was nearly as difficult as finding the work of past pictorialists.

When it came to finding original prints the story is quite amazing Russell Roberts Ltd exists only in the pages of The Home and a scrap book. A set of negatives by Hans Hasenflug has also been located. Rob Hillier, Ray Leighton and many others that I have interviewed have very few original prints of early work due to the seven-year itch in studios of clearing back logs of work. The exhibition I had hoped to mount of all the main photographers working in illustration will have very serious gaps if it ever eventuates.

The role of the photojournalist or illustrator is one that arose largely in the thirties with the growth of illustrated magazines. Between circa 1930–1950 professional studios were the mecca for talented young photographers. Many exhibition prints by amateur or professional Pictorialists school photographers have survived. There was not the same attitude to preserving commercial studios archives.

It seems a great loss that some public collection did not collect photographs over these years if only to show what the fashions looked like. Anyone doing costume research on the period must have a hard time detecting details in the poor quality reproductions in newspapers or weekly magazines.

It is to be hoped that perhaps some group within the profession could start collecting negatives and prints of special merit which can act as an archive of the future. The Art Gallery of New South Wales collects photography as an art rather than a history of the medium as such or as a social history. So please don't send a truck load of studio clean ups to the Gallery!

I would be most interested to learn of the location of any original prints of early years in particular examples of early colour processes such as Dufay colour.

One of the most regrettable losses is the fine colour fashion work done by John and Sandra Lee for The Home magazine. Sandra’s son Geoff Lee was able to attend the party.

I would also be grateful for any old sample books showing paper types no matter how obscure. Anyone wishing to inspect the photography collection at the Gallery is most welcome to do so by contacting me on ph 221 2100.


Russell Roberts, Laurence Le Guay, Wolfgang Sievers, Athol Shmith, David Potts


Images © Courtesy David Moore estate

Gael Newton


See also

Building the Art Gallery of NSW photography collection

From the Curator's Crypt - The Photographer's Party 1978

for more of my Essays and Articles     (click here)


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