In the year 1911, at the age of 53, the famous Australian stage actress and pantomime artist Nellie Stewart sat for her portrait in the Melbourne studio of a young up-and-coming female photographer named Mina Moore. Stewart may have been twenty or so years older than the woman behind the camera (Stewart was born in 1858, Moore in 1882), but both women lived in the era that saw the rise of the celebrity photograph. It was a period in which comic opera and pantomime were two of Australia’s most popular art forms and their leading actresses and singers among the most adored stars of the stage. The result of Stewart and Moore’s encounter can be seen in a photograph in the NGV Collection (fig. 1).

Looking at Moore’s portrait of Stewart today we are compelled to ask at least three questions: What is known about Mina Moore, and how prominent was she in the world of Australian photography when she produced this image of Stewart? What do we know about her career as a photographer at the time of their meeting, and in the years before and after? Finally, apart from her being an actress, what do we know of Nellie Stewart and why she chose Moore to record her face for posterity? Before I attempt to answer these questions, it is worth noting that three years after the photograph was taken Stewart approached Mina’s Sydney-based sister May Moore, who was also a talented photographer, for the hand-coloured portrait that appears in the frontispiece to Stewart’s autobiography (fig. 2).1See Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, John Sands, Sydney, 1923. A copy of this book can be found in the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library Special Collections. Underneath this image, Stewart wrote ‘My favourite photograph, Nellie Stewart’. While May’s photograph might have been the more favoured of the two sisters’ works, Mina’s image proved to be the more lucrative, as Stewart used it to market some of the sheet music she relied on to make a living over the next twenty years (fig. 3).

Mina and May Moore were the joint owners of a commercial photography business that lasted from 1910 to 1929 and which specialised in stylish looking portraits of artists and celebrities of the stage and screen. The sisters had emigrated from New Zealand to Australia in 1910 and never looked back.2Born in the tiny rural town of Wainui, Northland, the sisters had purchased a photography business in Wellington which they ran successfully for approximately two years before they emigrated to Australia. Their first Australian studio was in the offices of The Bulletin. See the Hellyer Family Records at the Silverdale Historical Society, Auckland, New Zealand. See also Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, 2nd edn, Institute of Australian Photography, Sydney, 1955, pp. 36–7. May managed the studio in Sydney while Mina ran the Melbourne end of the business, and although they usually signed their photographs jointly they excelled at different aspects. May was recognised as a brilliant artist and businesswoman who mixed with the bohemian crowd, and Mina was a skilled touch-up artist who also developed the knack of photographing people from their most flattering angles.3Susan Van Wyk, The Paris End: Photography, Fashion and Glamour, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006, p. 52. She was also adept at putting people at ease, which resulted in subjects that tended to look more relaxed and natural than May’s.4Barbara Hall & Jenni Mather, Australian Women Photographers: 1840–1960, Greenhouse Publications, Richmond, 1986, p. 52. Between them the sisters produced hundreds of striking portraits of local artists and national and international celebrities. Most were made between 1910 and 1920, a decade encompassing the First World War, the rise of modernism and the beginning of the film and fashion industries in Australia, Britain and the USA. Along with stars of the British stage, actresses of the American silent screen, and the great talents of opera and vaudeville, the Moore sisters photographed some of Australia’s most outstanding painters, writers and politicians. Their clients included the stage actresses Lillian Birtles, Lily Brayton and Ada Reeve; the silent-movie actresses Sara Allgood, Dorothy Cumming, Dorothy Dix and Dorothy Low; opera singers Eleonora de Cisneros, Dame Nellie Melba and Maria Pampari; actors Gaston Mervale, Graham Marr, Edmund Burke and an American-born actor and theatrical entrepreneur named Hugh Ward, who became one of the most popular figures on the Australasian stage. They also turned their camera on the feminist, socialist and peace campaigner Rose Scott; the painters Petrus Van Der Velden, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and the Lindsay brothers; and writers Ted Dyson, Dame Mary Gilmore, Henry Lawson, Christopher Brennan and Howard Ashton. Among the vaudeville celebrities they photographed were the sleight-of-hand card illusionist known as Cardini and a darkly handsome siffleur (whistler) from New Zealand named Borneo Gardiner, who performed a range of birdcalls, light classics and popular airs.5Several hundred photographs by the Moore sisters are in the Picture Collection of the State Library of Victoria. This collection comprises the bulk of their family photographs and their photographs of artists, writers, theatre people plus friends and musicians in New Zealand. The State Library of NSW holds over forty portrait photographs by May Moore, mostly of theatre celebrities. It also holds a small number of her portraits of Australian writers, including Dame Mary Gilmore, Rose Scott and Katharine Susannah Prichard.

By the time Nellie Stewart walked into Mina Moore’s Melbourne studio for her portrait in 1911 she was already a seasoned comic-opera performer, having begun her career on the stage before she had reached her teen years. She was born Eleanor Towsey in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, to Irish parents whose lives centred on music and the theatre.6According to Stewart’s biographer, Marjorie Skill, ‘Richard Stewart, Nellie’s father, was an actor and singer and a master of stagecraft’, while her mother, who was born Theodosia Yates ‘possessed a beautiful voice and had mastered many contralto operatic roles’. See Marjorie Skill, Sweet Nell of Old Sydney: The First Biography of Nellie Stewart, Actress and Humanitarian, Urania Publishing Company, North Sydney, 1973, pp. 2, 4. By 1900, at age 43, she had performed in more than thirty-five comic operas and in the best theatres in London and New York. Thanks to her beautiful soprano voice she was asked to sing the ode ‘Australia’ to open the musical program of the first Federal Parliament in 1901.7Ross Cooper, ‘Stewart, Eleanor Towzey (Nellie) (1858–1931)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stewart-eleanor-towzey-nellie-8663/text15149>, accessed 14 Sep. 2018. First published in hardcopy in John Ritchie (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1990. In February 1902 she played one of the greatest parts of her career, Nell Gwynne, in the romantic comedy-drama Sweet Nell of Old Drury by the American playwright Paul Kester. Other lead parts followed in Mice and Men,8This was a nineteenth-century play that predated John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men. For a review of Stewart’s performance in this play see <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/208152428>, accessed 9 Oct. 2018. Zaza, Pretty Peggy, Camille and What Every Woman Knows. When she posed for Mina Moore, she was most likely on a tour of Australia with the full cast of George Musgrove’s 1911 production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury, which lasted many months and consisted of one-night performances in most of Australia’s cities and large towns.99 Skill, p. 97. Stewart was arguably at the peak of her career at this point, for her performances in Sweet Nell of Old Drury were so popular, and the public’s adoration so intense, that there was standing room only wherever the theatre company went. The tour was followed immediately by a film adaptation of the play, also titled Sweet Nell of Old Drury; the only film Stewart starred in.1010 This film was financed by Englishman Cozens Spenser, co-produced by Raymond Longford and George Musgrove, directed by Musgrove and shown in 1912. No copies of it have survived. See Skill, pp. 98–9. It anticipated Paramount Pictures’ 1926 version, Nell Gwyn starring Dorothy Gish, which appeared more than twelve years later.

In 1911, around the time Stewart was making a name for herself with Sweet Nell…, the Moore sisters were just starting to ride their own tide of success. Mina had opened a studio the year before in the new J. & N. Tait Auditorium building at the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street, Melbourne. It was an astute choice. The Tait brothers were theatrical entrepreneurs, and one end of their building was a concert hall where operas, plays and orchestral concerts were staged. The associated rehearsals and recitals brought a steady stream of actors and actresses right past Mina’s studio, making it an ideal location to attract new clients. It was ideal for another reason too. Collins Street, with its wide, gracious boulevard, generous paved flagstone paths and bright-green plane trees, was a glamorous and fashionable destination for the arty set, whose patronage and attendance at theatre events was much greater than it is today, as Richard Fotheringham writes, ‘For nearly all the 1832–1930 period … live theatre was the major public entertainment industry in Australia’.11Richard Fotheringham (ed.), Australian Plays for the Colonial Stage 1834–1899, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 2006, p. xxiii. He adds that ‘by the 1860s the largest cities could expect perhaps a hundred different professional productions of many kinds every year: grand opera, comic opera, Shakespeare, society comedy, ‘problem’ play, melodrama, pantomime, vaudeville and variety’.12ibid.

Securing Stewart as a client would have been an enormous boost to May and Mina Moore’s professional reputations but, for her part, Stewart probably approached the Moores because of the elegant appearance of their photographs. Judging from her comments about Australian women’s raucous accents, elegance was something that Stewart prized. In her autobiography she wrote:

The woman who wishes to be charming on stage must equip herself to be charming off it. She must furnish her mind, she must learn to be gracious and easy in her manners, she must acquire the style of a gentlewoman … I know in Australia the young girl naturally tends to be slangy and careless, to flatten or stretch her vowels into the hard and killing monotony of what we call the Australian accent … but one cannot hope for success on any worthy stage unless one learns to speak like a cultivated man or woman.13Stewart, p. 164.

How did the Moore sisters achieve this high-class look? Like most leading photographers of the day they acquired the latest photographic equipment by taking advantage of the new transport networks that were opening up between Australasia and the US. New print technologies were also enabling photographs to be mass-produced in books, newspapers, magazines and postcards. This meant the Moore sisters could apprise themselves of the latest international styles of art without having to travel. This familiarity with everything new in photography helps explain how they came to use some of the more experimental printing methods of the time, such as placing photographs in a bath of potassium ferricyanide to give them a rich sepia appearance and using the sort of textured papers imported from Britain and North America that were favoured by Pictorialist photographers.

Another likely reason why Stewart approached the Moores was their reputation for beautifying their subjects. They did so by using a range of techniques that are recognisable in Mina’s photograph of Nellie Stewart. As she did with her portrait of the silent screen actress Dorothy Low (fig. 4) she positioned Stewart’s body at an acute angle to the camera, so it would not appear overly solid. She also used a strongly lit white background to offset the actress’s slim body and her long swathes of dark hair, a technique that arguably anticipated the ‘rim and halo effects’ of ‘heroic and glamour lighting’ that, as Richard Dyer points out, was soon to give white female stars of the silent screen, like Lillian Gish, their characteristic ethereal glow.14Richard Dyer, White, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 87. See also Dyer, The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations, Routledge, London, 1993, pp. 151, 153.

It was a technique derived from the theatre itself, where it was achieved using a powerful form of backlighting.15Such backlighting can be traced back to the dioramas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon. See Susan Crabtree & Peter Beudert, Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools and Techniques, Focal Press, Boston, 2005, p. 396. A final touch was the use of soft focus and the vignette (fade out) treatment of the shoulders (sometimes achieved with lenses but more often in the darkroom), all of which heightened the actress’s look of delicate beauty.16The beatific effects of soft focus were first realised by the British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who wrote in her memoir Annals of My Glass House: ‘My first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focussing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’. See Julia Margaret Cameron, Annals of My Glass House, first printed in Photo Beacon (Chicago), vol. 2, 1890; reprinted in Beaumont Newall (ed.), Photography, Essays and Images: Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980, p. 136. It is not certain if Mina’s use of soft focus was inspired by Cameron or by later international portrait photographers working in the Pictorialist style such as George Seeley, Marcus Adams, Alfred Maskell, Fred Holland Day and Gertrude Käsabier. Yet another possible source were the commercial photographers who specialised in soft-focus portraits of celebrities, including well-known actresses of the stage. These included Geoffrey Spaulding (USA), Charles Reutlinger (Paris), and the Australian commercial photographer known as ‘Talma’, whose company owned studios in both Sydney and Melbourne. Talma Studios was active between 1899 and 1912. See Talma and Co., Studies from the Studios of Talma and Co., Talma & Co., Melbourne, 1899.

It is informative to compare this work with the portrait of Stewart produced by May a few years later. May’s lighting is equally sophisticated but much bolder, and combined with her close-up framing suggests she was interested in capturing something of Stewart’s personality or character.

The lighting technique May used is called ‘Rembrandt lighting’, which is named after the great Dutch master Rembrandt Van Rijn, who used it for many of his portraits. It is noticeable by a strong contrast created between light and dark tones and the presence of a small triangular or diamond-shaped patch of light on the deeply shadowed side of the face beneath the eye.17Rembrandt used the technique for many of his portraits, including that of himself and his wife. His self-portrait of 1659 is perhaps the most well-known example of the technique. Photographers re-created the technique by placing a reflector or fill light to one side of the person being photographed. Controlling the intensity of the fill lights to achieve the desired effect requires great skill, and this was something that May, especially, had mastered.18The Rembrandt lighting technique was not used widely in Australia before May Moore applied it to the photographing of local celebrities. However, a glance at the leading photography manuals of the time confirms it was used frequently by international commercial photographers in England, France and the USA from the early 1900s. See Michael R. Peres, The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edn, Focal Press, Milton Park, Abingdon, 2013, p. 109. The technique did not acquire the name of Rembrandt lighting until 1915, when the American filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille used it to describe the subtle shadowy effects he wanted to achieve for his film The Warrens of Virginia (1915). See Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. deMille’s Hollywood, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2004, pp. 41–44. Generally known as low-key lighting, it imparted an air of mystery to Stewart’s face that is absent from Mina’s study. May used the same lighting method for many of her portraits of people in art and literature circles, including Arthur Streeton and Dulcie Deamer (fig. 5). It was a technique suited to sensitive artistic types because of its dramatic effect, but also because of its capacity to imbue a subject’s face with psychological depth. Adding such depth to a portrait was one way to suggest a person’s charisma, and in the case of Stewart, this was especially appropriate because her charisma was as legendary as her beauty.

Whereas May’s photograph of Stewart highlighted the actress’s personality, Mina’s emphasised her physical appearance and the garments she was wearing. In this respect it both preceded and set the pattern for some of the sisters’ later portraits of stage actresses, including the famous British performer and theatre artist Elizabeth (Lily) Brayton. Author Veronica Kelly has convincingly argued that Brayton’s talent played a role in setting the tone for the season’s fashions in Australia, particularly in the period from 1901 to 1914. Kelly writes that Brayton’s ‘dresses were analysed and consumed as fresh material in the on-going Australian uses of fashion as a vital aspect of self-enunciation and social message’.19Veronica Kelly, ‘Australia’s Lily Brayton: performer and theatre artist,’ Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, vol. 33, no. 1, May 2006, p. 50. The fact that Brayton’s dresses exerted a powerful impact on the styles of clothing worn by Australia’s women came about because the Moore sisters’ photographs, as well as being sold from their studios, appeared in widely circulated women’s magazines and literary publications such as Home, The Triad, and The Lone Hand.20Daniel Palmer, ‘Tracing the origins of Australian fashion photography,’ La Trobe Journal, no. 76, Spring 2005, pp. 87–101. Margaret Maynard points out that until the 1920s, trends in Australian high fashion were set by a small, moneyed elite. See Margaret Maynard, Out of Line: Australian Women and Style, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2001, p. 26.

Writing in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies Anita Boyd comments that, like Brayton, Stewart was a great beauty and a fashion icon whose style was widely emulated.21Anita Boyd, ‘The private and public life of Nellie Stewart’s bangle’, Journal of Popular Romance Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 2014, p. 1. Kelly has pointed out that Brayton’s dress style harked back to the romantic styles of the late Victorian era with their loose, flowing gowns and rich oriental costumes and fabrics. Based on the portrait by May Moore, Stewart’s clothes and her general fashion sense were arguably more modern, and this is borne out by contemporary reports in the press. For example, in 1895 the Melbourne-based magazine Table Talk advocated a reform to women’s apparel by proposing ‘a smart short skirt and gaiter, over full knickerbockers’ and reminding readers that ‘such a dress is really becoming, as anyone who saw Miss Nellie Stewart will testify’.22See ‘Fashion notes’, Table Talk, 25 Jan. 1895, p. 16. Quoted in Fotheringham, p. xliv.

According to Boyd, Stewart also unwittingly began a youthful fashion trend in the form of the once ubiquitous ‘Nellie Stewart bangle’ (fig. 6). This was a plain gold bangle worn by many Australian and New Zealand women in the early twentieth century as a sign of romantic attachment.23Boyd, p. 1. The bangle had a personal meaning for Stewart as George Musgrove had given it to her in lieu of a wedding ring. Although she and Musgrove were completely devoted to one another for over thirty years, and had a daughter together, their marriage was never formalised because Musgrove’s estranged wife refused to divorce him.

Boyd says the bangle was first worn by Stewart in 1886 and it never left her arm, even in death. It was during the First World War years that the bangle became a fashion item, albeit an expensive one because it was made of 22-carat gold.2424 Boyd notes that the couple’s shared private life was not made public until Stewart’s autobiography appeared almost forty years after the bangle first appeared on her wrist. See Boyd, p. 7. It caught on as a fashion item because it functioned within the growing culture of celebrity that began in the late Victorian era. Boyd observes that the bangle contributed to this culture by becoming a mass-produced consumer item. She alights on the sense of heightened glamour and consequent self-esteem that it afforded the young women who purchased and wore the bangles:

As with so many objects that are associated with the famous … the traits of the individual were transferred to the linked artefact: vicariously touched by Stewart’s aura, ladies who adorned themselves with these particular bangles were perceived as part of the fashionable set and doubtless aspired to the allure associated with Stewart herself. Possession of this gold accessory bonded women to their absent idol, as they physically carried an indexical trace of her social standing with them.25Boyd, p. 4.

Much the same can be said of the photographs of Stewart produced by the Moore sisters. The same proclivity for celebrities that led to Stewart’s bangle and fashion sense being fetishised also led to people collecting photographs and postcards featuring her face and glamorously attired body. The craze for collecting photographs of famous people had actually begun much earlier, in the 1870s, when people started pasting images of royalty into photograph albums and scrapbooks and using them as talking points to enliven visits by family members and friends. This practice was also an alternative way to record memories and express a sense of identity other than through writing.26Jill Hayley has noted that ‘Celebrity was a nineteenth-century invention’ fuelled by ‘the realism of the camera combined with the ubiquity of celebrity cartes’. She also notes that the practice of collecting photographs of celebrities began in the Victorian period, at which time they were pasted into family albums alongside portraits of the album compiler and their friends and family. She further notes that the practice ‘promoted feelings of familiarity and identity by enabling Victorians to engage with public figures with a degree of intimacy not possible through lithographs and engravings’. See ‘The Colonial Family Album: Photography and Identity in Otago, 1848–1890’, PhD thesis, Art History Department, Otago University, 2017, pp.76–7. By the early twentieth century, the penchant for collecting celebrity portraits had grown to include not just people of high social standing, but also stars of the stage. In many instances mass reproduction of such images took the form of postcards, a medium that in Australia reached a height of consumption in 1900–15. The fact that postcards featuring the face of Nellie Stewart were already in circulation as early as 1901 suggests that the Moore sisters were exploiting an already existing market for affordable objects that might lend gloss and glamour to women’s lives.2727 For an example of a postcard featuring Nellie Stewart see the one by the commercial photographer known as ‘Talma’ (fig. 7) in the State Library of Victoria. Further postcards featuring Stewart are held in the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia. For references to postcards featuring Stewart see Skill, p. 145. See also Fotheringham, p. xliv and fig. 5, p. 342.

Doubtless the stylish-looking photographs produced by the Moore sisters contributed to the growing popularity of celebrity culture in Australia at the time. They may have even helped shape it by providing role models for the fashion conscious. Mere possession of one of the Moore sisters’ photographs of Stewart, whether in the form of a postcard, print or reproduction in a magazine, was enough to expose the buyer to the star’s aura.28Two examples of collections that include photographs of Nellie Stewart and other stage celebrities collected by women are the ‘Elsie Thorp postcard collection of theatrical and literary portraits’, in the La Trobe Picture Collection State Library of Victoria; and the ‘Nellie Stewart collection’ donated by Mrs Rosa Shepherd, in the ‘Australian performing arts collection’ at the Arts Centre, Melbourne. Most of the people who collected images of female stage celebrities were women, but some men were also collectors. See, for example, the reference to a scrapbook from the early 1900s featuring photographs of Australia’s stage celebrities: Mimi Colligan, ‘The John Riley/Fred Hailes scrapbook: music and drama’, Theatre Heritage Australia, <https://theatreheritage.org.au/on-stage-magazine/news/item/249-the-john-riley-fred-hailes-scrapbook-music-and-drama> accessed 14 Sep. 2018.

Whereas most women collected the photographs to identify with Stewart and her celebrity status, men were more inclined to admire her for other reasons. Hector Bolitho, a journalist who had collaborated with Stewart around the year 1919, was recorded as saying:

I don’t think I was aware of her charm and beauty until I saw her. I was still a boy and she gave shape to my yearning. Her smile made one grow and feel amazed … and I was all wonder, worship and ignorance … I know that I fell in love with her and she was always charming to me.29Skill, p. 165.

Evidently Stewart was an object of fantasy for both sexes. Norman Campbell, Stewart’s friend and alleged ghost writer, said in 1923 that ‘throughout her long career she has always had a magnetic hold on the female sex’.30Stewart, p. 200. He also refers to the adoring females who greeted her after her performances and alludes to her legendary youthful looks, saying that wherever she went everyone had a ‘frank curiosity’ to know her exact age.31ibid. The use of a soft-focus lens in Mina Moore’s photograph no doubt helped reinforce Stewart’s youthful reputation. In addition, if we are to believe her biographer Marjorie Skill, she had several facelifts.32Skill, p. 135. More recently, Boyd has reminded us that Stewart was called ‘Australia’s Idol’ in her heyday by press and public alike, and adds that not only was she ‘the nation’s most loved star’, but ‘she held the attention of an adoring public for over fifty years’.33Boyd p. 2.

Nellie Stewart’s popularity was still enormous when she died from heart problems and pleurisy in 1931, aged seventy-two. The year before her death she was presented with a gift in the form of a large oil painting of herself as she had appeared many years earlier in the opera Sweet Nell of Drury Lane. The painting, an equally fitting tribute to Stewart’s beauty and youthful appearance as Mina’s 1911 photograph, is the work of the Australian painter William Beckwith McInnes, who won the Archibald Prize seven times. Stewart gifted the painting to the National Gallery of Victoria a few months before she died.34See accession file for the painting of Stewart by William McInnes held in the NGV Collection (fig. 8), 4459-3, <https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/6034/> accessed 10 Oct. 2018.

In 1934 the ‘Nellie Stewart Memorial Committee’ was established to benefit Sydney Hospital and raise funds for a monument to Stewart. Accordingly, in 1936, a rose garden was established at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney and named the ‘Nellie Stewart Garden of Memory’. Much later, in 1989, her contribution to Australian culture was belatedly celebrated in a postage stamp featuring the faces of her and Musgrove (fig. 9), issued to celebrate Australia’s rich theatrical history, and in 2001 an exhibition at the Arts Centre in Melbourne was held to mark the seventieth anniversary of Stewart’s death. Despite these tributes, as Boyd has noted, unlike her contemporary Dame Nellie Melba who represented the high-culture face of opera and who was also celebrated on an Australian postage stamp, Stewart has dropped from sight. The most likely explanation for this is the declining popularity of pantomime. While opera has endured, the sort of theatrical performances that Stewart starred in are no longer staged, resulting in even its most illustrious performers fading from memory. Talking of the Nellie Stewart bangle for instance, Boyd remarks that: ‘Contemporary jewellers and wearers have seldom heard of Stewart. Even if they do know such pieces as versions of the ‘Nellie Stewart bangle’ few will be aware of the star it was named after, let alone the story of the origin of its once famous namesake’.35Boyd, p. 2.

No less a fate has greeted Mina and May Moore. During the First World War, Mina and May photographed an enormous number of Australian soldiers, and the high quality of these images explains why the sisters’ studios gained the patronage of so many serving officers. None of the military men they photographed were famous, but all were afforded the same glamorous treatment as the Moore sisters’ theatrical clients.36Cato, p. 36. By the end of the war, Mina had made enough money to retire, much of it from her tireless photographing of soldiers. In 1915 she married the poet William Tainsh and following the birth of their first child in 1918 decided to sell the Melbourne studio.37Significantly, Mina Moore sold her studio to another woman photographer, Ruth Hollick, who was a friend. Her other friends included Anne Wickham (poet), Zora Cross (poet novelist, journalist), and Lesbia Harford (poet novelist and political activist). The only photographs she produced from then on were family snapshots, with just one exception. In 1927 she was offered a temporary contract to create portraits for the Shell Oil Company and spent several months fulfilling the commission. She died aged 75 in 1957, survived by her husband and three children.38May Moore married a dentist who gave up his profession to assist her in the Sydney studio. She continued operating this studio until the late 1920s when illness forced her to retire. She died of cancer in 1931 at the age of 50.

Mina Moore’s current obscurity is more than likely due to her early retirement from photography; but a further possible explanation is that few Australian photography historians have paid close attention to the commercial photography produced in the early twentieth century. The photographs of Harold Cazneaux are somewhat of an exception, but he differed from the Moores in that his subject matter was not confined to portraiture, and his deepening commitment to Pictorialism saw him eventually leaving commercial photography to practice art photography full-time.39Lesley G. Lynch, ‘Cazneaux, Harold (1878–1953)’, in Bede Nairn & Geoffrey Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography 1891–1939, vol. 7, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1979. Online entry: <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cazneaux-harold-pierce-5542> accessed 14 Sep. 2018. Generally commercial photography, especially that concerned with portraiture, has not enjoyed the same amount of critical attention as artistic photography. For historians of popular culture this downplaying of the importance of commercial portraiture has led to a poor appreciation of its role in helping to create fashionable role models for the public in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Chris Rojek, for example, has observed that in the early twentieth century it was primarily commercial photography that ‘furnished celebrity culture with powerful new ways of staging and extending celebrity’.40Chris Rojek, Celebrity, Reaktion Books, London, 2001, p. 48, 128.

Recently Daniel Palmer has singled out the Moore sisters’ work for their contribution to Australia’s fledgling fashion industry.41Palmer, p. 87. What I hope to have shown is their equally powerful contribution to the rise of celebrity culture in Australia. By looking at Mina Moore’s image of Nellie Stewart, for example, it is possible to see not just what she looked like, and how she was portrayed by one of the most sought-after Australian photographers of the early twentieth century, but also the sorts of feminine traits that were admired by many Australians in the decade following Federation.

Associate Professor Anne Maxwell, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne

Notes

1

See Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, John Sands, Sydney, 1923. A copy of this book can be found in the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library Special Collections.

2

Born in the tiny rural town of Wainui, Northland, the sisters had purchased a photography business in Wellington which they ran successfully for approximately two years before they emigrated to Australia. Their first Australian studio was in the offices of The Bulletin. See the Hellyer Family Records at the Silverdale Historical Society, Auckland, New Zealand. See also Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, 2nd edn, Institute of Australian Photography, Sydney, 1955, pp. 36–7.

3

Susan Van Wyk, The Paris End: Photography, Fashion and Glamour, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006, p. 52.

4

Barbara Hall & Jenni Mather, Australian Women Photographers: 1840–1960, Greenhouse Publications, Richmond, 1986, p. 52.

5

Several hundred photographs by the Moore sisters are in the Picture Collection of the State Library of Victoria. This collection comprises the bulk of their family photographs and their photographs of artists, writers, theatre people plus friends and musicians in New Zealand. The State Library of NSW holds over forty portrait photographs by May Moore, mostly of theatre celebrities. It also holds a small number of her portraits of Australian writers, including Dame Mary Gilmore, Rose Scott and Katharine Susannah Prichard.

6

According to Stewart’s biographer, Marjorie Skill, ‘Richard Stewart, Nellie’s father, was an actor and singer and a master of stagecraft’, while her mother, who was born Theodosia Yates ‘possessed a beautiful voice and had mastered many contralto operatic roles’. See Marjorie Skill, Sweet Nell of Old Sydney: The First Biography of Nellie Stewart, Actress and Humanitarian, Urania Publishing Company, North Sydney, 1973, pp. 2, 4.

7

Ross Cooper, ‘Stewart, Eleanor Towzey (Nellie) (1858–1931)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stewart-eleanor-towzey-nellie-8663/text15149>, accessed 14 Sep. 2018. First published in hardcopy in John Ritchie (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1990.

8

This was a nineteenth-century play that predated John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men. For a review of Stewart’s performance in this play see <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/208152428>, accessed 9 Oct. 2018.

9

Skill, p. 97.

10

This film was financed by Englishman Cozens Spenser, co-produced by Raymond Longford and George Musgrove, directed by Musgrove and shown in 1912. No copies of it have survived. See Skill, pp. 98–9.

11

Richard Fotheringham (ed.), Australian Plays for the Colonial Stage 1834–1899, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 2006, p. xxiii.

12

ibid.

13

Stewart, p. 164.

14

Richard Dyer, White, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 87. See also Dyer, The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations, Routledge, London, 1993, pp. 151, 153.

15

Such backlighting can be traced back to the dioramas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon. See Susan Crabtree & Peter Beudert, Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools and Techniques, Focal Press, Boston, 2005, p. 396.

16

The beatific effects of soft focus were first realised by the British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who wrote in her memoir Annals of My Glass House: ‘My first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focussing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon’. See Julia Margaret Cameron, Annals of My Glass House, first printed in Photo Beacon (Chicago), vol. 2, 1890; reprinted in Beaumont Newall (ed.), Photography, Essays and Images: Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980, p. 136. It is not certain if Mina’s use of soft focus was inspired by Cameron or by later international portrait photographers working in the Pictorialist style such as George Seeley, Marcus Adams, Alfred Maskell, Fred Holland Day and Gertrude Käsabier. Yet another possible source were the commercial photographers who specialised in soft-focus portraits of celebrities, including well-known actresses of the stage. These included Geoffrey Spaulding (USA), Charles Reutlinger (Paris), and the Australian commercial photographer known as ‘Talma’, whose company owned studios in both Sydney and Melbourne. Talma Studios was active between 1899 and 1912. See Talma and Co., Studies from the Studios of Talma and Co., Talma & Co., Melbourne, 1899.

17

Rembrandt used the technique for many of his portraits, including that of himself and his wife. His self-portrait of 1659 is perhaps the most well-known example of the technique.

18

The Rembrandt lighting technique was not used widely in Australia before May Moore applied it to the photographing of local celebrities. However, a glance at the leading photography manuals of the time confirms it was used frequently by international commercial photographers in England, France and the USA from the early 1900s. See Michael R. Peres, The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edn, Focal Press, Milton Park, Abingdon, 2013, p. 109. The technique did not acquire the name of Rembrandt lighting until 1915, when the American filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille used it to describe the subtle shadowy effects he wanted to achieve for his film The Warrens of Virginia (1915). See Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. deMille’s Hollywood, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2004, pp. 41–44.

19

Veronica Kelly, ‘Australia’s Lily Brayton: performer and theatre artist,’ Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, vol. 33, no. 1, May 2006, p. 50.

20

Daniel Palmer, ‘Tracing the origins of Australian fashion photography,’ La Trobe Journal, no. 76, Spring 2005, pp. 87–101. Margaret Maynard points out that until the 1920s, trends in Australian high fashion were set by a small, moneyed elite. See Margaret Maynard, Out of Line: Australian Women and Style, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2001, p. 26.

21

Anita Boyd, ‘The private and public life of Nellie Stewart’s bangle’, Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 4, no. 2, 2014, p. 1.

22

See ‘Fashion notes’, Table Talk, 25 Jan. 1895, p. 16. Quoted in Fotheringham, p. xliv.

23

Boyd, p. 1.

24

Boyd notes that the couple’s shared private life was not made public until Stewart’s autobiography appeared almost forty years after the bangle first appeared on her wrist. See Boyd, p. 7.

25

Boyd, p. 4.

26

Jill Hayley has noted that ‘Celebrity was a nineteenth-century invention’ fuelled by ‘the realism of the camera combined with the ubiquity of celebrity cartes’. She also notes that the practice of collecting photographs of celebrities began in the Victorian period, at which time they were pasted into family albums alongside portraits of the album compiler and their friends and family. She further notes that the practice ‘promoted feelings of familiarity and identity by enabling Victorians to engage with public figures with a degree of intimacy not possible through lithographs and engravings’. See ‘The Colonial Family Album: Photography and Identity in Otago, 1848–1890’, PhD thesis, Art History Department, Otago University, 2017, pp.76–7.

27

For an example of a postcard featuring Nellie Stewart see the one by the commercial photographer known as ‘Talma’ (fig. 7) in the State Library of Victoria. Further postcards featuring Stewart are held in the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia. For references to postcards featuring Stewart see Skill, p. 145. See also Fotheringham, p. xliv and fig. 5, p. 342.

28

Two examples of collections that include photographs of Nellie Stewart and other stage celebrities collected by women are the ‘Elsie Thorp postcard collection of theatrical and literary portraits’, in the La Trobe Picture Collection State Library of Victoria; and the ‘Nellie Stewart collection’ donated by Mrs Rosa Shepherd, in the ‘Australian performing arts collection’ at the Arts Centre, Melbourne. Most of the people who collected images of female stage celebrities were women, but some men were also collectors. See, for example, the reference to a scrapbook from the early 1900s featuring photographs of Australia’s stage celebrities: Mimi Colligan, ‘The John Riley/Fred Hailes scrapbook: music and drama’, Theatre Heritage Australia,  <https://theatreheritage.org.au/on-stage-magazine/news/item/249-the-john-riley-fred-hailes-scrapbook-music-and-drama> accessed 14 Sep. 2018.

29

Skill, p. 165.

30

Stewart, p. 200.

31

ibid.

32

Skill, p. 135.

33

Boyd p. 2.

34

See accession file for the painting of Stewart by William McInnes held in the NGV Collection, 4459-3, <https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/6034/> accessed 10 Oct. 2018.

35

Boyd, p. 2.

36

Cato, p. 36.

37

Significantly, Mina Moore sold her studio to another woman photographer, Ruth Hollick, who was a friend. Her other friends included Anne Wickham (poet), Zora Cross (poet novelist, journalist), and Lesbia Harford (poet novelist and political activist).

38

May Moore married a dentist who gave up his profession to assist her in the Sydney studio. She continued operating this studio until the late 1920s when illness forced her to retire. She died of cancer in 1931 at the age of 50.

39

Lesley G. Lynch, ‘Cazneaux, Harold (1878–1953)’, in Bede Nairn & Geoffrey Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography 1891–1939, vol. 7, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1979. Online entry: <http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cazneaux-harold-pierce-5542> accessed 14 Sep. 2018.

40

Chris Rojek, Celebrity, Reaktion Books, London, 2001, p. 48, 128.

41

Palmer, p. 87.