Works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

pub­lic Laurence Le Guay, No ti­tle (War mon­tage with child and sol­dier) (c 1939). Col­lec­tion Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, Mel­bourne. Pur­chased through the NGV Foun­da­tion with the as­sis­tance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fel­low, 2001. On dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion Brave New World: Aus­tralia 1930s, NGV Aus­tralia, Fed­er­a­tion Square, Mel­bourne, un­til Oc­to­ber 15. In the late 1930s, Laurence Le Guay, best known as one of the great fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phers, de­cided to ex­per­i­ment. He took a se­ries of pho­to­graphs that, fea­tur­ing naked male and fe­male white Aus­tralians, were un­like any­thing pre­vi­ously pro­duced in this coun­try.

Le Guay and fel­low pho­tog­ra­pher Max Du­pain were in­ter­ested in de­pict­ing the heroic nude with the physique of an an­cient Greek or Ro­man god or god­dess. It was part of their wider fas­ci­na­tion with “body cul­ture” and con­cepts of health, fit­ness and eu­gen­ics, or con- trolled breed­ing, to pro­duce the ideal clas­si­cal body.

These po­lar­is­ing con­cepts were talk­ing points among artists such as Le Guay be­fore World War II. He pro­duced a se­ries of sur­re­al­ist-style pho­tomon­tages that il­lus­trate his be­lief in the con­nec­tion be­tween a healthy body, moder­nity and the devel­op­ment of an Aus­tralian na­tion. His mon­tages fea­ture naked male and fe­male mod­els, and fo­cus on themes such as the in­dus­trial age and the threat of war.

Many of these mon­tages were pub­lished in Man, the Aus­tralian mag­a­zine for men. This was a slightly sala­cious mag­a­zine that con­tained a mix of se­ri­ous ar­ti­cles on busi­ness and for­eign af­fairs, but also car­toons fea­tur­ing naked women.

One of Le Guay’s mon­tages from that time, No ti­tle (War mon­tage with child and sol­dier), is on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion Brave New World: Aus­tralia 1930s at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria in Mel­bourne.

The mon­tage clearly demon­strates that by the late 30s the won­ders of moder­nity were tem­pered by the knowl­edge that the mirac­u­lous in­ven­tions of the in­dus­trial world also car­ried the seeds of de­struc­tion, says Iso­bel Crom­bie, NGV as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, the cu­ra­tor of Brave New World and au­thor of Body Cul­ture: Max Du­pain, Pho­tog­ra­phy and Aus­tralian Cul­ture, 1919-1939.

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