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.