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Zimmermann + Athol Shmith: Fashion Photography

Zimmermann + Athol Shmith: Fashion Photography
'Extraordinary material at the press of a button'
13 April 2021

In September 2020, fashion label Zimmermann launched their 2021 Spring Collection, Wild Botanica. The collection features 10 of Ellis Rowan's artworks as statement prints, with Nicky Zimmermann drawing creative inspiration from the National Library's Ellis Rowan collection. 

An Ellis Rowan floral artwork next to the dress featuring it

Erythrina insularis F.M. Baily, family Fabaceae and butterflies, Papua New Guinea, nla.cat-vn1168540, alongside a look from Zimmermann's 2021 Spring Collection, Wild Botanica.

As a way of giving back to the Library for our support, Zimmermann kindly donated funds so that more of our vast collections could be digitised. This means more people will now be able to access, learn from, and be inspired by what they find. 

'Creating a digital archive gives people access to extraordinary material at the press of a button regardless of their location, economic status, or ownership. For me it is an exciting shift in how we experience art and allows these artworks to live on for generations to come.' – Nicky Zimmermann

Among the material digitsed from this donation were more of Ellis Rowan's personal letters and journal, as well as work of fashion photographer Athol Shmith. 

Two models, one wearing a dress, one harem pants

Athol Shmith, 1970, Two models, one wearing a dress, one harem pants, nla.cat-vn2630828 

Athol Shmith

Elegant and bold, Melbourne photographer Athol Shmith (1914–1990) worked in fashion, theatre and advertising on private commission for decades. He was undoubtedly versatile, and well known as a portraitist and wedding photographer. Yet fashion photography – for magazines, department stores and boutiques – was a speciality. 

Over decades, Shmith captured a world of sartorial elegance from shirt to shift dresses, miniskirts to wet-look boots, in his studio at the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street, at friends’ houses or outdoors. He was a pioneer in Australian fashion photography at a time when modelling was turning professional in Australia. Fashion historian Margaret Maynard has called his images ‘perhaps the finest of all Australian fashion photographs’.

In 1979, Shmith gave the National Library of Australia a large collection of his prints and negatives, mostly fashion photographs. Some have a relationship to prints in other Australian collections. Others appear to be unique.

A selection of Athol Shmith's fashion photography

Model wearing skirt and fur stole, approximately 1965

Athol Shmith, Model wearing skirt and fur stole, approximately 1965nla.cat-vn7285347

Model wearing a full skirted dress, approximately 1956

Athol Shmith, Model, Pam wearing a full skirted dress, approximately 1956nla.cat-vn7248556

Model wearing fringed jacket, long lace-up boots

Athol Shmith, 1969, Model wearing fringed jacket, long lace-up bootsnla.cat-vn3049045

Woman posing on Collins Street, Melbourne

Athol Shmith, Woman posing on Collins Street, Melbourne, approximately 1950 - 1975nla.obj-2884026903

Portrait of Prue Acton, approximately 1970

Athol Shmith, Portrait of Prue Acton, approximately 1970nla.cat-vn7248442

A model holding a book in front of a book case

Athol Shmith, Fashion model, approximately 1950 - 1975, 24nla.obj-2889447476

A model with a double bass

Athol Shmith, Jackie with double bassnla.cat-vn7130313

Model in a jacket and slacks

Athol Shmith, Model in a jacket and slacks, approximately 1969nla.cat-vn7253142

A model in a dress and hat standing on a balcony, approximately 1968

Athol Shmith, A model in a dress and hat standing on a balcony, approximately 1968nla.cat-vn7131027

Anne Hamilton wearing sunglasses and wet look boots

Athol Shmith, Anne Hamilton wearing sunglasses and wet look bootsnla.cat-vn7130327

Athol Shmith images courtesy of the Estate of Athol Shmith, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art.

Further reading

Extracts of this article first appeared in 'Essays on Beauty: The Fashion Photography of Athol Shmith' in the March 2017 issue of the National Library of Australia Magazine.

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