In 1983, commercial photographer Henry Talbot donated his entire archive to the NGV. This was 11 years after he closed his studio. There were 35,245 images: mostly negatives, lots of contact sheets and about 500 prints. He didn’t know what they might do with it, but he knew the work might be of some archival value; after all, it covered more than a decade of fashion photography for organisations as diverse as Vogue and the Australian Wool Board.
Curator Susan Van Wyk has been picking through this vast collection for a year, immersing herself in the world of ’60s-Melbourne fashion.
The result is Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer. Loosely chronological, the exhibition covers the ’60s end-to-end – from austere mod-minimalism, to double denim and flowing hair.
It’s a historical record as well as an overview of Talbot’s talent.
"The youth market grew in the ’60s in a way it never had before,” says Van Wyk. “These images are so evocative of the time, but they still have a contemporary feel. It’s not a stretch to imagine them being taken today.”
It was the era of new synthetics, but Talbot somehow makes Bri-Nylon look cool. There’s a sense of drama to many of the shots that gives them a cinematic feel. The show also charts the changing role of women.
But there are holes in the NGV’s records. The models include the icons of Australia in the ’60s: Maggie Tabberer, Janice Wakely, Maggi Eckardt, but also countless unidentified faces.
When Van Wyk delved into the archive, many of the labels identifying models and locations were missing. But Melbourne is a small town, and already some early visitors have identified some of the women in the shots. Can you? Your mother? Your boss?
“By the time the show comes down, we hope to have a much better idea of what we have,” says Van Wyk.
Henry Talbot: 1960s Fashion Photographer is on now at NGV Australia in Federation Square until August 21. If you have any leads on an unidentified model in the show, the NGV would like to hear from you.