The New England Regional Art Museum is currently featuring a major exhibition of photographs by Rennie Ellis which includes pictures of celebrities, politicians, people and events from the 1970s and 80s. This exhibition provides a snapshot of Australia during a time of great change, an era with literally larger than life leaders such as Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Frazer running the country as well as social and cultural change underway on a massive scale.
“It was an interesting time in Australia: the country was catching up with the rest of the world. Attitudes were changing. The arts were virtually ignored and thus they flourished. It was the perfect place to pioneer, to find a new identity, to start afresh”, writes the late filmmaker Paul Cox in his essay in the book Rennie Ellis: Decade 1970-1980 which accompanies the exhibition.
The photographs of Rennie Ellis captured this feeling of change and now provide us with a time capsule of what was going on. He wasn’t a news photographer but his compulsion to capture images ranging from the everyday to major historical events means that his enormous archive of over half a million photographs and negatives is now one of the most historically significant documents of its type in the country which is held by public galleries and libraries.
Rennie was attracted to all walks of life and in this exhibition not only will you find revealing and candid pictures of celebrities like iconic musicians Bon Scott and Keith Richards, but also the audiences enjoying their concerts as well as protestors, artists, football players and fans, racing punters, strippers, models, party-goers, shoppers and other people in the street.
“The people in Rennie’s photographs all seem unintimidated by the camera, and it is thanks to his great skill that they are not openly posing for him; there is still that sense that the moment is just unfolding before the viewer’s eyes,” writes photographic artist William Yang in the book Rennie Ellis: Decadent 1980-2000.
Rennie was also a pioneer in recognizing photography as an artform in Australia with his work establishing Brummels Gallery in Melbourne, the first Australian commercial gallery specializing only in photography. His photographic books – especially the Lifes a Beach series were best sellers at the time and put his photographs into the homes of ordinary Australians, who may not have had an interest in art.
In today’s social media era when pictures are ubiquitous but simultaneously everyone is aware of controlling their image it would be difficult for one photographer to amass such an enormous range of imagery which documents their life and times so effectively.
We invite you to come and enjoy this exhibition at NERAM.
Article by Robert Heather, Director, New England Regional Art Museum for Armidale Express, 24 August 2016
Open: 19 August – 16 October 2016