Rennie Ellis Brummels

Brummels
Gallery of Photography

In 1972 Rennie Ellis founded the Brummels Gallery of Photography. The gallery operated as a not-for-profit enterprise and was located above Brummels restaurant at 95 Toorak Road in the inner Melbourne suburb of South Yarra.

Brummels was significant because it was the first 'photography gallery' in Australia and it was a venue in which established and emerging Australian photographers could exhibit and sell their work. The opening exhibition, Two Views of Erotica, showcased photographs by Henry Talbot and the then unknown photographer Carol Jerrems, and was officially launched by photographer and renowned filmmaker, Paul Cox.

From 1972 to 1980, Brummels staged around seventy exhibitions by a diverse range of Australian photographers, many of whom today are recognised as being amongst the leading photographers of the period. These photographers included David Moore, Wesley Stacey, Robert Ashton, Ponch Hawkes, Sue Ford, George Gittoes, John Williams, Ian Dodd, Jon Rhodes and international photographers, Sarah Moon and Charles Gatewood.

In a statement about Brummels in 1973, Ellis declared "In opening this Gallery of Photography, I am continuing a trend that is well established in cities such as London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Amsterdam where private photography galleries have been popular for several years. In Australia photography has been long neglected as a serious art and form of expression..."

Rennie Ellis and Assistant Director, Robert Ashton, were passionately dedicated to providing a platform for photography to be redefined as fine art and an opportunity for photographers to exhibit their creative work without commercial restraints: "in other words, pure non-applied photography where the photographer has had no restrictions imposed on him save those he initiates himself", wrote Ellis in 1972.

From its inception, Ellis struggled to receive the financial support needed to keep the gallery doors open and despite receiving a Visual Arts Board of Australia Council grant in 1976 to operate for one year.  In 1977 Ellis turned to the corporate sector for backing and successfully secured sponsorship from Pentax. The gallery was renamed the Pentax Brummels Gallery of Photography. Brummels continued to stage exhibitions and facilitate the acquisition of the Brummels photographers' works by the Philip Morris Collection and public institutions.

Phillip Adams praised Rennie's dedication to the ideals behind Brummels when he stated in a letter to Ellis in 1972 "In Russia they would make you a Hero Worker of the Soviet Union, in Japan, the Diet would declare you a National treasure, but here the Philistines will probably break your heart". Sadly, Adams' prediction was correct because despite gaining some external support for Brummels, by early 1980 the gallery was no longer financially viable and its doors closed.

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