Out Driving

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.

- Words by Thomas Essex-Plath Photograph­y by Peter Wille


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.

 ??  ?? 02 01 Kevin Borland’s innovative Rice House (1953) in the outer Melbourne suburb of Eltham.
02 Constructi­on underway at
Walsh Street (1957), Robin Boyd’s own home in South Yarra.
02 01 Kevin Borland’s innovative Rice House (1953) in the outer Melbourne suburb of Eltham. 02 Constructi­on underway at Walsh Street (1957), Robin Boyd’s own home in South Yarra.
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