Gathered during innumerable forays into Melbourne’s suburban streets, this collection of historical photographs by draftsman Peter Wille offers a candid portrait of mid-century Australian life and architecture.
Captured during road trips around suburbia, this photographic collection offers a candid portrait of Australian mid-century houses.
The State Library Victoria’s South Rotunda is a kind of in-between space. The small gallery could easily be overlooked by a preoccupied visitor, yet it is precisely this quality that made it an appropriate setting for the unassuming character of the exhibition Out Driving.
This selection of photographs by draftsman and amateur photographer Peter Wille is, however, worth far more than a passing glance.
The exhibition comprised 50 enlarged reproductions of colour slides depicting Melbourne’s mid-century architecture, a tiny portion of more than
6,000 photographs in Wille’s collection (now held by the library). Wille accumulated these images as a result of innumerable forays “out driving” through the suburbs of Melbourne and beyond. The photographs, taken predominantly during the 1950s and ’60s, depict some of the city’s most familiar examples of Victorian modernism as well as some lesser-known buildings. Today’s public appetite for mid-century modern architecture continues and these images will appeal to many.
The most significant feature captured by these images, however, is not any one particular building. It is, rather, the palpable excitement of their author. There is something in the hasty, amateurish composition of the photographs, the obviously new (and occasionally unfinished) state of the buildings and the sheer size of the collection that conveys Wille’s enthusiasm for experiencing and absorbing an emerging landscape of modern architecture.
Communicating Wille’s active pursuit of architecture (his “drive,” perhaps) seems especially pertinent today. Our relationship to the built environment is increasingly being replaced by a passively received stream of images – one that is now, literally, at our fingertips. Making adventurous trips out to unfamiliar suburbs seems like an ever-more foreign idea. In spite of Wille’s tangible energy, there is a disheartening undertone to the exhibition – the implication that we have lost something in our contemporary circumstance. Taking some time out to make the journey to visit this small exhibition might be seen as a worthwhile step in reversing this seemingly inescapable situation.
After the exhibition’s closure, more than 4,000 images from Wille’s collection remain available to view online via the library’s digitized collection. Their personal and understated character may mean that these photographs escape the digital stream of social media images, yet allow them to preserve a dwindling kind of architectural experience and the design that inspired it.
Out Driving was held 1 December 2018 – 30 April 2020 at State Library Victoria. slv.vic.gov.au