Sunday, June 28, 2015

Groovy guru: the photography of Henry Talbot

When you think about some of Australia’s biggest (and best) bands of the 60s --The Easybeats, Masters Apprentices, Purple Hearts et al – it’s impossible not to be struck by what a great contribution European and British migrants have made to this country’s rock’n’roll tradition.

The same can be said of our photography, with European-born luminaries like Bruno Benini, Wolfgang Sievers, Mark Strizic and Helmut Newton all having a profound impact on the national photographic scene during the 50s and 60s.

Henry Talbot
Henry Talbot (formerly known as Heinz Tichauer) was another one. Fleeing his natal Germany in 1939 to escape the Nazis, he ended up in England — interned as a suspected German agent! Along with thousands of other German and Italian detainees (some of whom were prisoners of war; many more of whom were Jewish refugees like Talbot), he was deported to Australia in 1940 aboard the notorious hell-ship, Dunera.

After spending a couple of years interned in Hay, NSW, Talbot volunteered for the Australian Army, where he became friends with fellow German refugee Helmut Newton. 

Both Talbot and Newton ended up in Melbourne, having established independent post-war careers as photographers. They went into partnership in 1956, specialising in fashion and advertising: needless to say, the Newton & Talbot Studio became one of Melbourne’s most successful. 

Work it, baby!

Photo: Henry Talbot, 1967 (copyright, Lynette Anne Talbot)
Groovy OR WHAT?! Sure, Melbourne was hip in the 1960s (or this blog wouldn’t exist) but this photo, part of an ad for New York fashion label Brooks Brothers, takes it to a whole new level. That sports car looks like it’s been snatched from the set of some trippy late-60s Italian spy flick, while the slinky chick in the background could be Emma Peel’s — or Modesty Blaise’s — stunt double. The guy’s pretty sharp too.

Brooks Brothers were eager to cash in on the burgeoning Aussie youth market — and Henry Talbot was just the man to help them, with his unerring eye for the aesthetics and vibe of the times. The fabtastic stunner below is part of the same series. David Bailey, eat yer heart out!
Photo: Henry Talbot, 1967 (copyright, Lynette Anne Talbot)
In 1959, the Newton and Talbot studio scored a lucrative contract with the Australian Wool Board, and moved their studio into the basement of the Board’s office in Bourke Street. Concerned about the rising popularity of synthetic fabrics, the AWB was relying on Talbot and Newton to give it the cred it needed to remain competitive in a market that was becoming ever more youth-focused. 

This gorgeous promo photo, taken by Talbot for them in 1964, certainly delivers the goods.
Photo: Henry Talbot, 1964 (copyright, Lynette Anne Talbot)
When Newton departed for London on a self-declared mission to become the world’s greatest photographer some time around 1960, Talbot carried on alone, racking up an impressive folio of work for a who’s who of big-name clients such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Sportscraft, General Motors and Holeproof Hosiery (below). 
Photo: Henry Talbot, 1962 (copyright, Lynette Anne Talbot)
Dating from 1962, this glamorous tableau was shot on location at the long-since closed Walnut Tree restaurant in William Street, Melbourne. It’s especially noteworthy for the male model standing in the background – none other than Bruno Benini before he became a fashion photographer himself! (Anyone else think the dark-haired bloke at the front looks like Don Draper’s cosmic twin?)
Photo: Henry Talbot, 1965 (image found on
A vintage print of this candid and evocative photo appears to be for sale on the Josef Lebovic Gallery website, with the following accreditation:
Helmut Newton...and Henry Talbot. [Behind the Scenes at a Fashion Parade], c1965…Studio stamp reads "Helmut Newton & Henry Talbot Pty Ltd. Latrobe Court, 165 Latrobe St. [Melbourne]. [Ph] 662 2199, 662 2208. No. 506/35 Pos. 186." 
I’m guessing it’s a Talbot: by 1965, Newton was long gone, pursuing world domination on the other side of the world.

Here’s one final jaw-dropping example of Talbot’s work, taken for Fibremakers Australia. I mean, wowsers! Not only does this photo of Jackie Holme (Billy Thorpe's ex) grooving against the Parkes telescope tap into the decade’s obsession with all things space-age, it also captures its sense of freedom, fun and female fabulosity. They don’t make fashion photography like this any more…
Photo: Henry Talbot, 1964/5; National Gallery of Australia; NGA 89.1436
Given his eye-catching style, it’s no surprise to learn that Henry Talbot won a raft of prestigious awards during the 50s and 60s, the Australian Photo News’s Fashion Photographer of the Year (1958) and a Distinctive Merit Award from the Art Directors Club of Melbourne (1968) among them. 

He went on to Head of the Photography Department at the School of Art and Design at Preston, (later the Phillip Institute of Technology), from 1973 to 1985, after which he moved to Sydney with his family. He died of cancer in 1999, aged 79.

There is currently an exhibition dedicated to Henry Talbot's photography at the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square, which is well worth a visit. You can see the special e-book the gallery has prepared to mark the occasion here.

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  1. Fabulous post Miss GoGo. Wasn't Jackie Holme just gorgeous? Talbot's receptionist was the equally gorgeous Suzette Jahari whose brother Steve was a bit of a singer, and Talbot took great photos of the band my boyfriend was in. Many of 'the Dunera boys' were hugely infl;uential in all areas of melbourne culture. Refugees are wonderful like that. There is a film The Dunera Boys.

    1. Well thank you, Ann ODyne! When I stumbled across Henry Talbot's photos, I couldn't believe I wasn't familiar with him. And yes, Jackie Holme was divine! I must say, I'm very curious - what band was your boyfriend in? I can imagine Talbot would've taken a fab band portrait (I didn't come across any in my research though). I'm really keen to see The Dunera Boys - that boat trip sounds appalling, but as you say, it had some impressive passengers. (I reckon I would've thrown myself overboard and swum for it)