Inside the Collection

Benini and Fashion at the Foro Italico

Black and white photograph of fashion model by Bruno Benini
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

When the large crate containing the Bruno Benini archive arrived in the basement last year, it was opened with as much anticipation as if we were opening a treasure trove! In it were photographs Bruno captured of another world, a world where everything was beautiful, albeit in different ways – elegant and sophisticated to gritty and decaying.

As we continue to look through and document the archive, there are exciting discoveries all the time! It was no different with 2009/43/1-5/2, a box of negatives which revealed a small number of photos from Bruno Benini’s 1958 overseas trip. As Hazel Benini, Bruno’s wife, tells us:

In 1958 he flew to London via New York, where he met up with Helmet Newton and his wife June… He photographed Janice and Wendy in Portobello Road for Crestknit (Australia). He moved on to Italy catching up with relatives, journeyed on to Rome meeting up with Janice. He photographed her for Sportscraft at the Olympic area, and at the Tivoli Gardens out of Rome with an Italian model wearing dresses by Ninette of Melbourne. He used a male model for Crestknit sweaters at the Colosseum which made a magnificent background. He returned to Melbourne in September 1958, with great experience and knowledge acquired from this European trip. (Hazel Benini Memoir, 2009)

The negatives I was looking at are mentioned by Hazel above, of Janice Wakely in Sportscraft fashion at the Foro Italico, a sports complex in Rome. Janice Wakely recalls:

The time in Rome was superb, because he [Bruno] only had a limited number of garments, and he brought them over with him… He said I can’t wait to get to Italy, I can’t wait to get to Rome. I’ve got to go back, I’m just ecstatic about going back to Italy… (Janice Wakely Interview, 2010)

In the top image we can see Janice at an indoor swimming pool used as the ‘warm up pool’ during the 1960 Olympic Games. A marble mosaic depicting a classical mythological scene is visible in the background of the photograph, as well as aquatic figures in marble mosaic on the poolside floor.

Black and white photograph of Janice Wakely by Bruno Benini
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

In the photograph shown above Janice is standing alongside one of sixty statues depicting athletic male figures in a classical style. These statues are each 4 metres in height, and are made of Lunense marble, hence the name Stadio dei Marmi or ‘Stadium of the Marbles’. This sports stadium was also used in the 1960 Olympic Games for hockey tournaments, as well as an athletics ‘warm up track’ (Bulletin du Comité International Olympique Mai 1958 Numéro 65).

Black and white photograph of Janice Wakely by Bruno Benini
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Again we see Janice modelling by an athletic male statue, here a bronze hammer thrower in mid movement, in what is now the Palazzo del C.O.N.I. or the offices of the Italian National Olympic Committee. At the time these photographs were taken, construction was underway at the Foro Italico for the 1960 Summer Olympic Games. However, the locations we see in Bruno’s photographs were not built for these Olympics.

The Foro Italico, originally named Foro Mussolini, was commissioned by Benito Mussolini and built between 1928 and 1938, to encourage the Italian people to physical fitness and to ‘strengthen the body politic’. The many examples of athletic and heroic bodies which can be seen in mosaic, marble and bronze testify to this aim. These figures in Bruno’s photographs not only evoke the power and physicality of the athlete and the upcoming Olympic Games, but also the aspirational body. The Foro Italico provided a setting for the juxtaposition of brute masculine strength against elegant femininity, but also a continuation of the idealised body – from classicised athlete to fashion model. This series of photographs show the skill of Bruno Benini as photographer and artist in the complexity, beauty and playfulness of his visual vocabulary.

You can see these photographs and many, many more in Creating the look: Bruno Benini and fashion photography until 18 April 2011.

Alysha Buss
Assistant Curator, Creating the look: Benini and fashion photography

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