Italian-born fashion photographer Bruno Benini migrated to Australia from Massa Marittima in Tuscany, as a child in 1935, with his mother and siblings. His father arrived earlier. After studying Science at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT University), Benini worked for a brief period for General Motors Holden, returning to Italy in the late 1940s. On his return to Australia, he decided to pursue a career as a fashion photographer, joining German émigré photographer Henry Talbot at Peter Fox studios, at first working first as a receptionist and salesman, then as assistant photographer. He also learnt how to become a fashion photographer by moonlighting as a model with Helmut Newton, Athol Shmith and Henry Talbot.
The Bruno Benini photography archive was produced and collected over many years by Bruno Benini and his wife, Hazel Benini (nee Craig). It contains commercial and fashion photography taken in Australia and Europe between 1950 and 2001. The Museum acquired the Benini photography archvie in 2009 with assistance from the Australian Government's National Cultural Heritage Account. The collection covers over five decades of Melbourne, Australian and international fashion, with strong representation of dress from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The earliest works highlight the coutured elegance of the fifties, but the collection quickly moves into the less restrictive, less tailored, mod and hippy styles of the mid-late sixties, funkier styles of the mid-1970s, and sexy lingerie, disco and club wear during the 1980s and 90s.
The Benini archive provides a comprehensive and invaluable record of Australian (and international) fashion over five decades. The photographs were taken mainly as black and white serie for publication as multi-page fashion stories in Australian newspapers. Importantly, Benini's archive also includes portraiture, personal and general commercial photography. There are around 200 large format photographic prints (vintage and more recent prints), numerous smaller contact prints, then thousands of colour transparencies and black and white negatives, as well as biographical material (tear sheets, diaries and job books, newspaper cuttings, publications, medals and awards) dating from the 1950s through to the photographer's death in 2001.
Collected by Bruno and his wife Hazel Benini, this archive records their working lives together - Bruno as a commercial and fashion photographer, Hazel as a window display artist and fashion publicist. It highlights their lasting creative partnership, and reveals their close working relationships with Australia's top Australian models and involvement with many leading Australian, in particular Melbourne, fashion brands, dress manufacturers and boutique and department store retailers. It also document's Melbourne, and in particular Melbourne's Jewish diaspora's pivotal role in the production, design, manufacture and retailing of post-WWII Australian style.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator, 2017