Creating the Look: Benini and Fashion Photography

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Explore the artistic genius of Australia’s most celebrated fashion photographer

The I've Got You video immersive presented in 'Creating the Look: Benini and Fashion Photography' at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum), 31 July 2010 - 18 April 2011

Creating the look: Benini and fashion photography
The 'Creating the look: Benini and fashion photography' exhibition explored the creative and technical processes involved in crafting powerful eye-catching fashion photographs. Drawing on the archive of Australian fashion photographer Bruno Benini, the exhibition featured vintage and recent photographic prints, colour transparencies, black-and-white negatives, contact proof prints with original crop marks, newspaper clippings and other biographical material. 

Exhibition sections:

1. Bruno Benini photographer
2. The Benini Studio
3. Benini's Darkroom
4. Benini Exposed
5. Creating the look
6. After Benini: Fashion Image Makers today.

Section 1: Bruno Benini photographer
The first section of the exhibition explored Bruno Benini's Italian origins and elegant style, alongside his lasting creative partnership with New Zealand-born fashion stylist Hazel Benini (nee Craig) whom he met in 1959, and married in 1962. Together they generated an enormous number of innovative publicity 'stories' promoting local fashion houses and retailers on the fashion pages of all leading Australian newspapers, including a series of shots for Natralash's 'wardrobe of lashes'. "I thought there's no use putting them on a pretty model because it will just look like a model with nice eyelashes, so that's when I did the egg shots. I painted the eyes on eggs and then made little perspex cylinders that they sat in. I think that was quite a clever idea." (Hazel Benini interview, 2008)

Bruno Benini

Bruno Benini (1925-2001) was an Italian-born Melbourne-based Australian fashion photographer. He initially studied science (industrial chemistry) at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) but from the 1950s, went on to become a leading Australian fashion photographer.

Timeline

1925: Born 17 February, 1925 in Massa Marittima, Tuscany, Italy

1935: Migrates to Australia

1940s: Studies science/chemistry at the Melbourne Technical College, and works as an Industrial Chemist at General Motors Holden.

1950: Travels to Italy, with a stop over in London, and decides to pursue a career in photography.

1953: Joins Peter Fox Studios in Collins Street, Melbourne working with Catherine Perkins and Henry Talbot.

1954: Sets up his own studio in Kew - occassionally moonlighting as a model for friends Helmut Newton, Henry Talbot and Athol Shmith to hone his own photographic skills.

From 1956: Benini was producing glamorous, high-end fashion photography.

Philippa Gowns dress

Glamorous Australian model Maggie Tabberer and Italian-born Melbourne fashion photographer Bruno Benini formed a lifelong working relationship and friendship, even travelling to Italy together with Hazel Benini in 1973. In this photograph, taken in 1958, Maggie wears an elegant knee length cocktail dress on the verandah of a mutual milliner friend's home in East Melbourne. Benini loved to photograph outdoors in natural daylight.

Section 2: Benini's Studio
For most of his career, Bruno shared a studio with his wife Hazel Benini. Their different talents - his understanding of lighting and cropping, her fashion flair and inventiveness with props and backdrops - combined to produce powerful fashion shots. Hazel Benini designed boxes for a window display which Bruno later used for this Barbie-inspired fashion shoot in the studio, with models Gay Vardis and Jan Meade, around 1963. In Bruno's opinion there was no reason why every garment could not look like high fashion if taken in the right atmosphere.

Mondrian-inspired mini

In this classic 1960s fashion shot by Bruno Benini, striking Australian model, Jan Stewart wears a Mondrian-inspired linen mini-dress designed by Inge Fonagy of Simona for Sportsgirl (Melbourne, 1966). The model wears her own bangles, but Hazel Benini introduced the large bauble earrings - to compliment the geometry of the dress and catch the light.

Section 3: Benini's Darkroom
Bruno loved to experiment in the darkroom: bleaching and holding back colour, cropping and compositing images to print. Dancer Antonio Rodrigues, one of Bruno's favourite subjects, models here with Marg Hanna for a smoking accessories story in 1971. The Benini exhibition featured a full scale recreation of a photographic darkroom into which the visitor could walk and view the process of enlarging, washing and drying photographic prints like this one.
Section 4: Benini Exposed
Using voices, music and poetry and five large back projection screens, and reflections in multiple mirrored panels of the same size, Benini Exposed provided a multi-sensory exploration of Benini's use of light and shadow, texture and form. The extraordinary scale of this detailed 10-minute video immersive was testament to the high quality of Benini's photographs, showing them to be almost scientific in their execution and resolution. 

The evolution of fashion

'Creating the look' unpicked the ideas, props, backdrops, tricks and technical devices used by Bruno Benini and his wife stylist Hazel Benini from the 1950s through to 2000.

Together, the couple produced some of Australia’s most memorable and elegant fashion images by combining careful styling with elegant design.

The Beninis’ images provided a snapshot of the evolution of fashion and photography in Australia over forty years, as well as documenting Australian and international fashion and fashion accessories.

The exhibition also revealed how Benini’s traditional fashion photography techniques are being interpreted in innovative new ways by a contemporary generation of photographers and stylists.

Section 5: Creating the look
Hundreds of Benini prints were amassed into themes - Strike a pose, Urban Glamour, Fashion and Architecture, The Close-up, Roman Holiday, The Outdoor Studio, Props and Backdrops, and Shoe Photography - to reveal the Benini's processed for creating 'the look'. Careful selection of outdoor locations, and an inventive recycling of materials for props and backdrops, were just some of the many creative devices Bruno and Hazel Benini used to create eye-catching fashion photographs.Hazel Benini was especially inventive - whipping up painted backdrops overnight, introducing fresh flowers and family pets, and designing and building the display props herself. Aptly, a 1970 newspaper profile on Hazel Benini described her as a 'Jill-of-all-trades'.  
Capturing 'the look' on location
"We did a lot of Bottega's shoe shots outdoors, just to get a different look. They had ankle boots and we decided to go around the city and photograph the legs walking. I would set up the legs with Blu-Tak, and hope they would stay in place until Bruno took the shot. They were very successful shots in the press." Hazel Benini interview, 2008.
Section 6: After Benini: Fashion Image-Makers today
As in Benini's day, today's fashion photographers have to be inventive, using digital and film formats to create images and stories that evoke the look, mood and feel of fashion. Extreme styling, street photography, fashion film, and the inspiration of early colour photography and classic films, were some of the techniques and devices investigated in the final contemporary fashion image-makers section of the Benini exhibition.

Fashion photography and Benini's global influence

Fashion photographs are good indicators of social change. By their very nature and purpose, fashion photographs are created and designed to document and promote change by capturing or creating the total look, mood or attitudes of the moment. Within their frames (if they’re not shot in the studio which is the case for so many post-WWII photographs) they also frequently document (by capturing) natural, urban, rural, built and interior environments. These images then become highly evocative references to people, places, social, technological, environmental and industrial change at different points in time.

With many of Benini’s shots also taken overseas, change of another nature is also revealed - that of Australia’s complex, multicultural society, it’s global aspirations and it’s trade, manufacturing and cultural links with the rest of the world.

The Benini Archive at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney

Benini’s archive covers over five decades of Melbourne, Australian and international fashion, with strong representation of dress from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The earliest works highlight the coutured elegance of the fifties, but the collection quickly moves into the less restrictive, less tailored, mod and hippy styles of the sixties before confronting the raunchier funkier styles of the 1970s. It then also features sexier disco and club scene wear of the 1980s as well as nude male model portraiture and work done in association with the Nike-dominated 1990s.

While many Australian magazines and fashion studios regularly discarded all their old stock and references, the Benini archive provides an invaluable, uniquely comprehensive, reference point for Australian (and international) fashion over these decades.

The archive was acquired in 2009 with funding assistance from the Australian Government's National Cultural Heritage Account.

Credits: Story

Curator: Anne-Marie Van de Ven
Senior Curator: Roger Leong
Exhibition view photographer: Marinco Kojdanovski
Digital Producer: Ryan Hernandez
Special thanks: Hazel Benini and Louise Rytter

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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