Inside the Collection

Evolution of a 1950s fashion model

Janice Wakely modelling Gala Gowns in Zurich, in a number of film stills
97/272/1-1 Janice Wakely modelling Gala Gowns in Zurich, photographed by Henry Talbot, 1960 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Discovering the many aspects of one woman’s career was one of the most interesting aspects of my 20 day internship at the Powerhouse Museum. Under the supervision of Curator Anne-Marie Van de Ven I’ve just finished cataloguing the Janice Wakely modelling and photography archive. This archive includes photographs of Janice, photographs by Janice, magazine and newspaper tear sheets and clippings, plus biographical material. The photographs document the career of one of the most prominent Australian fashion models of the 1950s and 60s. During this time, Janice was a highly sought after fashion model with great success both in her homeland of Australia, as well as overseas in London, Zurich and Paris.

The archive contains photographs of Janice Wakely as a fashion model, taken during the 1950s and 1960s, many by leading Australian and international photographers of the day – including Helmut Newton, Bruno Benini, Athol Shmith, Henry Talbot, David Franklin and the British photographer Terence Donovan. The majority of the prints are photographs of Janice modelling in the different photographer’s studio, however there are also some showing Janice modelling outdoors and others where she appears at special publicity events, like the publicity photograph of a group of models for the All Australian Fashion Parades in 1962. Other photographs show Janice with her contemporaries – internationally renowned hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, pre-eminent fashion designer Hardy Amies, and photographers Henry Talbot and David Franklin.

While many of the photographs were taken in Australia, primarily Melbourne, there are also photographs of Janice in London, Switzerland, New York and Delhi, including a photograph taken of Janice in 1960 by British photographer Terence Donovan, a prominent British photographer and major figure of the ‘Swinging London’ scene of the 1960s.

Janice shared close working relationships and friendships with the photographers she worked with, and some greatly influenced her career and her later transition into photography. Her passion for photography began during some of her earlier modelling assignments where, between takes, she would pick up a camera and take pictures of the photographers and other models at work. Helmut Newton was the first to encourage her to take up photography, introducing her to darkroom and camera techniques in his penthouse studio and on location.

Photograph of Helmut Newton standing on the beach taking a photograph by Janice Wakely taken at Lorne, near Melbourne
97/272/1-2/12/3 Photograph of Helmut Newton by Janice Wakely taken at Lorne, near Melbourne, 1959 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Her archive consists of several such photographs including candid and intimate shots of her photographer friends and colleagues. Most photographs were taken in Melbourne and Sydney while some were taken overseas in Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea, including photographs taken by Janice of Henry Talbot and Helen Homewood during an overseas assignment for Woman’s Day with Woman magazine which took them to Hong Kong, Thailand, India and the United Kingdom. These photographs provide an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ view of a photographer and model at work during a photo shoot. There is a unique series of candid photographs of photographer Helmut Newton and model Georgia Gold on a beach in Lorne, Victoria, which Janice took during a photo shoot for the first issue of Australian Vogue.

Janice’s photographic prints are as much a documentation of the careers of the photographers, as they are of Janice’s own career. There are many original prints in good condition, given to Janice by the photographers. The archive is an important documentation of the Australian fashion industry of the 1950s and 60s and how that industry fitted into the wider global context, with many of its industry professionals working both domestically and overseas. It also provides examples of high fashion tastes and styles during the era, and reveals how fashion developed and evolved from the 1950s into the 1960s.

Black and white photograph of Penthouse magazine with a group of female models from 1965
97/272/1-4/1 Penthouse brochure,Janice appears bottom right, photograph taken by Janice Wakely, 1965 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Janice’s skills as a fashion model and burgeoning photographer reached new heights in 1962 when she and fellow model Helen Homewood opened the Penthouse Modelling Agency and Photographic Studio, in Helmut’s old penthouse studio. Through this agency, Janice and Helen trained and booked jobs for new modelling talent while Janice also captured the model’s test shots and carried out assignments as a photographer. The archive includes some unique personal works, like the photograph that Janice took of ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev rehearsing for ‘Le Corsair’ in Melbourne.

This archive demonstrates Janice Wakely’s transition from fashion model to photographer, the establishment of the Penthouse Agency and how she balanced and found success through both professions. It also provides important documentation of some of Australia’s most prominent fashion photographers in practice. The collection compliments others in the Powerhouse Museum including those which document the works of photographers Henry Talbot, Bruno Benini and Helmut Newton and photographs of other Australian fashion models of the era, such as Helen Homewood, Georgia Gold, Jan Stewart and Margot McKendry.

Helen Dunlop, Curatorial Intern with Anne Marie Van de Ven, Curator, June 2011

One response to “Evolution of a 1950s fashion model

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *