This rather majestic black and white photographic portrait of Australian artist, designer and photographer Dahl Collings (Dulcie May Wilmott 1910-1988) was shot by her husband Geoffrey Collings (1905-2000) during a trip to Stonehenge around 1936. It has recently been digitized from a two and a quarter inch square negative still housed in its original glassine sleeve, part of the Dahl and Geoffrey Collings archives held by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney. These important archives document and reference Dahl and Geoffrey Collings multi-faceted Australian and international cross-disciplinary art, design, photography and film practice from the early 1930s through to around 1980.
Together with other photographs in the Collings archives, including the image of the Orion wharved at Sydney Harbour in 1935 (below), this portrait of Dahl demonstrates the Collingses’ emerging interest in asymetrical non-pictorialist modernism (where spatial planes are as significant as forms within the frame). Others shots highlight the influence of the British documentary film and photography movement on their practice (where the human condition is documented ‘truthfully’ in rural or urban settings). A carefully constructed, it places emphasis on the ingenuity of Stonehenge’s construction and the diminutive scale of the human figure when juxtaposed against the man-made monumentality of this prehistoric structure. The Collingses’ own artistic practice is represented by the presence of the artist holding a camera.
Dahl and Geoffrey formed a lifelong creative partnership after their marriage in 1933. While they were both initially practicing commercial artists, recently digitized negatives from the archive demonstrate the breadth of their simultaneously emerging photographic and film practice. Both are captured enthusiastically photographing their European trip even prior to boarding the Orion in Sydney (see images below), before its departure for London. They stopped in Spain in 1935 on the way to London, to make their first documentary film in the medieval mountainous township of Alquezar in the Catalonian region of Spain.
Photographs were taken throughout their travels in England and on the continent (1935-1938), then also during their return to Australia via Martinique, Panama and Tahiti at the end of 1938. Some of these photographs found their way into personal and commercial graphic design work produced by Dahl and Geoffrey in London and Sydney. Others were included in exhibitions.
On the return journey in late 1938, Dahl and Geoffrey stopped for several months in Tahiti, where they made another (now lost) documentary film titled ‘Tiara Tahiti’. The portrait of Geoff filming in Tahiti (below) has recently been digitized from a strip of 35mm Kodak nitrate film housed in the second Collings archive, acquired after Geoff’s death in 2000.
Two important early exhibitions – the ‘Three Australians’ exhibition held at the Lund Humphrey’s Gallery, London in 1938, and the ‘Dahl and Geoffrey Collings: Exhibition of Modern Industrial, Art and Documentary Photography’ held at the David Jones Galleries in Sydney during 1939 – featured portraits and other examples of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings’ modern commercial and documentary design and photography. Catalogues for these exhibition are also housed in the archives.
Post written by Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator