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18 October 2011

The Spirit of Brummels - and Rennie Ellis - endures.

Monash Gallery of Art are mounting a survey of the content and enduring influence of Brummels photography gallery (arguably Australia's first - the Australian Centre for Photography would open a year later, in 1973).

Brummels paved the way for the current wave of excellent commercial exhibiting spaces throughout Australia now showing photography as fine-art. The late Rennie Ellis (1940-2003), that compulsive diarist and charismatic observer of the Australian way of life, foresaw photography's coming prominence as a dynamic art form and founded Brummels, sited above a restaurant of the same name, in Toorak Road, South Yarra, Melbourne in 1972.

Ellis maintained that photography had long been neglected in Australia as a form of artistic expression and Brummels would, he said "continue a trend that is widely accepted in London, New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam where photography galleries had been popular for several years." Brummels, under Ellis and Assistant Director, fellow photographer Robert Ashton, quickly became a social arena in which many now legendary Australian photographers showed their work for the first time. The late Carol Jerrems appears at her exhibition at Brummels in 1975 (in a photograph taken by Ellis) as a stylish, confident young woman wearing a loosely tied blouse, black leather boots, frayed denim shorts - caught returning the photographer's gaze with her characteristic aura of opacity and charm.

Indeed Ellis's observations of Brummels at MGA capture the gallery's Seventies social ambience and suggest strongly  their exhibiting photographers took their work seriously, but not themselves. Ellis's eye for the bizarre captures three very diverse photographers - Jerrems, the late Athol Shmith and Rob Imhoff (wearing a set of clearly faux front teeth) locked in an awkward embrace at the gallery.

Brummels Gallery was eventually compelled to seek sponsorship from Pentax, becoming the Pentax Brummels Gallery before finally closing its doors in 1980. If you want to see ample visual evidence of a new wave of Australian photography that then included artists such as Jon Rhodes, Wesley Stacey, Sue Ford, George Gittoes, Ponch Hawkes, Ian Dodd with seminal works by other established figures such as David Moore (his "Landscape Nude 1" is pictured, above, left) and Henry Talbot, the comfortable drive to Monash Gallery of Art at Wheeler's Hill is a must. In an appropriate coincidence, noted film-maker and photographer  Paul Cox (who opened Brummels first show in 1972) will also open the MGA exhibition on October 22.  

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