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