By the late 1930s Australian photographer Athol Shmith had consolidated his reputation as Melbourne’s leading fashion and portrait photographer. All the major fashion houses and boutiques in the city used Shmith to photograph their collections, the city’s debutantes, brides and society dames were photographed by him and the stars of Melbourne’s thriving theatre and emerging film industry were often seen at his Collins Street studio.
Although highly regarded for his portrait photography, it is in the area of fashion photography that Shmith became most famous. He photographed fashion for small exclusive boutiques in Melbourne, as well as for the major department stores. In 1948, when the department store Myer brought a selection of garments by French couturier Christian Dior, and a glamorous contingent of French models to Australia and Shmith was commissioned to photograph them. His flawlessly glamorous photographs were perfectly suited to promoting the ideals of feminine beauty and sophistication that embodied the world of high end fashion.
In this image, photographed around 1950, Shmith has captured a sense of the glamour of Hollywood at that time. The subject of his fashion photograph is Joan Stewart, a renowned beauty and popular model of the period. In Shmith’s highly skilled hands the undoubtedly beautiful Stewart is transformed into a vision of elegant sophistication. Using his skills with studio lighting, and the artistry of retouching, he created an illusion of beauty and perfection, attributes that underpinned all his fashion photography.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia