Ruth Hollick (1883-1977) is noted for her portraits of children and of Melbourne society’s elite in the decades of 1910 to 1940. Nellie Melba commissioned her, as did Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch. She studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne, and used her training and artistic eye to develop an intimate and engaging style in her photographic portraiture.

3chinese paper lantern 4elephant vase

Images: Young girl holding a Chinese paper lantern, wearing a hat, ca. 1910-ca. 1930, glass lantern slide, H93.500/112; Young girl with elephant vase filled with hydrangeas, ca. 1910-ca. 1930, glass lantern slide, H93.500/86

Described as a pictorialist by art historians, she would often use only natural available light in her portraits to create soft, atmospheric scenes. She advertised herself as an ‘art photographer’ and exhibited widely in Australian and international photographic exhibitions.

collins street looking east

Collins Street, Melbourne, looking easterly towards Elizabeth Street, ca. 1910-ca. 1930, glass negative, H2004.61/395

In 1920 the stylish magazine The Home began publication in Sydney and Hollick was appointed to provide the Melbourne content (the renowned photographer Harold Cazneaux was responsible for the Sydney material). The Home was an international-style magazine in the mould of Vogue, and contained information and advertisements about all things sophisticated and modern.

Her pictorialist portraits of debutants, society weddings and children, dominated the early issues. It is among these images that we find some of the earliest known fashion photographs in Australia. In the 20s, fashion photography was a new phenomenon. Usually photographs appearing in publications like magazines or newspapers, were primarily about the sitter – a socialite or debutant – who always wore the most fashionable clothes. But a transition was occurring, and we see photographs where the primary object is to display the clothing, not the person.

woman in fur Clarke, Miss Wilma

Images: Woman in fur coat with back to viewer holding magazine in right hand, ca. 1910-ca. 1930, glass negative, H2004.61/257; Miss Wilma Clarke, 1920-1948, flexible base negative, H2004.61/496

While at art school, Hollick had established close friendships with photographer Dorothy Izard who later became her professional partner, the painter Dora Wilson, and the photographer Pegg Clarke. She took over the well-known Collins Street photography studio from Mina and May Moore in 1918, and there her career flourished, as did her social life: the fashionable studio was the location of a number of parties for Hollick’s wide circle of friends from the art world.

5Ham Mrs Wilbur

John, David & Brian Ham, flexible base negative, 1920-1930, H2004.61/602

Not professionally trained as a photographer, her intuitive style evidently served her well, and she became one of Melbourne’s leading photographers in the 1920s. The onset of the Great Depression did not affect her client list, but it did mean that she had to relocate her studio from Collins Street, Melbourne, to her home in Moonee Ponds, where she worked until the 1950s.

The Library holds over a thousand photographs by Hollick – some as prints, but most as glass or flexible negatives. The whole collection has been digitised.

 

Olga Tsara, Librarian, Heritage Collections

This is an updated version of an item published in State Library of Victoria news.

 

References:

The origins of fashion photography are discussed in Daniel Palmer’s excellent essay, “Tracing the Origins of Australian Fashion Photography”, La Trobe Journal, no. 75, Spring 2005, pp. 87-104.

Barbara Hall and Jenni Mather, Australian Women Photographers 1840-1960, Richmond (Vic.), 1986, pp. 64-66

Daniel Palmer and Kate Rhodes, “High Society to High Concept: moments of Australian Fashion Photography”, Photofile, 71: Winter 2004, pp.34-41

Gael Newton and Karen Jacubec, “Ruth Hollick and Portrait Photography Between the Wars”, Australian Antique Collector, No 54, July 1998, pp. 168-170

Dogs

Puppies [Miss Elmslie], 1911, glass negative, H2004.61/232

 

 

 

This article has 1 comment

  1. Wonderful Collins St. photo.
    I wish I could take photos with an eye like that.

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