Exhibition of photographs captures unique moments in the life of Percy Grainger

September 17 / 197

A new exhibition in the Grainger Museum presents the powerful medium of the photograph to communicate the public and private worlds of one of Australia’s most famous composer-performers, Percy Grainger.

Exhibition curator Brian Allison, from the University’s Special Collections and Grainger Museum team says Grainger had an acute understanding of the “power of the photograph to document significant events and to entice and persuade an adoring public”.

“The Grainger Museum Archive includes close to 15,000 photographs,” he says.

“The majority of these are images of people—generally portraits—including many signed photographs gifted to Grainger by members of his social milieu, eminent society figures and established artists.

“But by far the most common subject matter in the collection are the numerous photographs that minutely detail Grainger’s changing physiognomy and physical being, across the trajectory of his life,” he says.

The show includes images from the time of Grainger’s arrival in Edwardian London in 1901, when he used sophisticated studio portraits to ease his way in cultured and wealthy social circles, often at considerable cost to himself.

Mr Allison says Grainger was photographed by photographers, who, in many instances were celebrities in their own right – not unlike the photos of movie and rock stars today photographed by legends in the medium like Annie Liebowitz.

Grainger also used photography for very different purposes, which Mr Allison says was a form of visual note making of his “very private world”. 

The exhibition includes images of Grainger and his sexual partners naked, photos which depict his “evanescent youthfulness”, as well as sadomasochistic activities, and which display at times “an almost forensic quality”.

Aside from himself as a subject, the Grainger photographic archive holds many photographs of unidentified people, often by fashionable, well-known studios. This is probably an indication of the many people Grainger interacted with over his lifetime, and several of these are presented in the exhibition.

‘Grainger photographed: Public facades and intimate spaces’ is on show in the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne until 31 December.

Visit the Grainger Museum website for more information and opening hours.


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