Press Room Details

Images in the frame
Janet Dawson

1 August 2012
James Cockington

Money, Sydney Morning Herald

Leonard Joel auctions in South Yarra has a knack for discovering new niches in the notoriously fickle secondary market. They seem to have found one in mid-century photographic prints. They've held three stand-alone photographic auctions in recent times and for the latest, on July 22, the sales room was packed with eager punters willing to pay well above estimates, double in some cases. "We were really pleasantly surprised," says the head of art at Leonard Joel, Briar Williams.

Surprising too, was that the big sellers were the prints of Angus O'Callaghan and Bruno Bernini, both recent inclusions in this market.

Why this was so is a mystery even to experts such as Williams, although she says what sells best is work that shows Melbourne of the mid-period (1950's to 1970's).

O'Callaghan was largely unrecognised throughout his life, while Benini was an established fashion photographer in Melbourne. He was the most prolific in the 1950's and 1960's when he worked alongside luminaries including Helmut Newton and Athol Shmith.

His resurgence may be explained by an exhibition of his work at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum in 2010-11, following its acquisition of his archive in 2009. Demand for his prints has increased since, along with their resale values. His photograph Hot Soup 1957, showing the artist Janet Dawson, is a typical example of his European style. It sold for $1500. Another fashion shot, taken at the Eastern Market, fetched $1800.

A smaller one of Maggie Tabberer sold for $550. Virtually all Bernini prints sold, most well above estimates. O'Callaghan also scored good results, with a top price of $2200 (hammer price). Two Spires, Collins Street sold for $1500. Most sold for above the $1000 mark.

He is, or was, a mysterious figure. Born in Melbourne in 1922, he developed an interest in photography during military service. In 1969 he bought two cameras, one for black and white, and spent the next three years anonymously documenting the city. He hoped to produce a book but no publisher was interested. The negatives remained in a shoebox for 40 years until his second wife discovered them and intiated a belated interest.

O'Callaghan took photos of mundane events: a butcher's shop window, spectators in Bay 13 at the MCG, the exterior of Flinders Street Station. The last is reminiscent of John Brack's 1955 painting, Collins St, 5pm. 

Now they seem to have a deeper meaning, capturing the soul of a city that perhaps no longer exists. 

Williams says that in O'Callaghan's case, demand for his work has spread by word of mouth. One fan snapped up six of his prints at the auction.

Others in this vein include Wolfgang Sievers and Gordon DeLisle. Both worked as commercial photographers - DeLisle for Ford and then the Department of Trade and Industry among others - while creating exceptional art photography on the side. 

Mark Strizic is another with a strong following on the secondary photographic market. Their work can sell for over the $1000 mark. 

Buyers at the auction included some young photographers and designers who have recently discovered this period. Some Bruno Bernini buyers included his models, now elegant seventysomethings wanting a reminder of their youth. Another was the daughter of a fashion designer whose work Bernini photographed.

This seems to be a Melbourne phenomenon. Shapiro in Sydney has also had some photographic auctions, but down the south the taste is for Melbourne studies by Melbourne snappers. The next Leonard Joel sale is scheduled for the middle of next year. 

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