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State Library acquires Bruce Postle archive

The State Library of Victoria has begun cataloguing the Bruce Postle archive, after it successfully raised $75,000 in public donations.

‘Since his win in 1977, I had repeatedly asked Malcolm Fraser if I could take a different photo to those taken after the two previous elections. I told him what I had in mind and he said he would let me know. Late on victory night he gave his consent. The following morning, I arrived at The Windsor in Melbourne at 6.30am with the Sunday papers. I was ushered upstairs, and let into his room. I handed Malcolm the papers, he opened one up and read about his win. I took this photo as Malcolm received a call of congratulations from his son’. Photo: Bruce Postle.

The library acquired over 100,000 items from the legendary photojournalist – including prints, negatives and ephermera such as press passes and medallions.

‘I am happy to confirm that the Library reached its target of $75,000 towards the acquisition by the due date, 30 June,’ Jacqui Loftus-Hills, State Library of Victoria media specialist, told Inside Imaging. ‘The appeal has been completed. That said, we are still accepting donations as these funds can be directed towards our preservation and conservation activities, as well as digitisation of the archive.’

It’s the largest acquisition of photography the library has ever made, and a testament to the public’s interest in preserving great news photography.

The acquisition was directly from Bruce, whose career spanned over five decades working for mastheads such as The Age, Courier Mail, and Queensland Country Life. How Bruce managed to retain possession of his entire remarkable archive is anyone’s guess: There’s a probably apocryphal story of Bruce swanning into the photographic library at The Age building in Spencer Street not long after he finished there and simply walking out with all his negs – but who could confirm or deny such a thing!

With a reputation of ‘risking it all’ to get the shot – and Bruce got many great shots – the State Library of Victoria has secured an important historic asset.

We’ve already published Bruce’s story about his two favourite images, but it’s so good here it is again!
Sammy Davis Jr

Photo: Bruce Postle.

‘I took this image on stage with a 400mm lens, hand-held from side of stage. As soon as I pressed the shutter I thought, “That’s all I need”. I went back to the office and they used it on page one. He [Sammy] went back to America with [a copy of] the paper. Three weeks later my boss Ray Blackburn picked up the phone, and it was him. He spoke to him for about five minutes then held it up and said, “Bruce, Sammy Davis Jnr wants a word with you”.

‘Sammy said, “Bruce, you took a picture of me when I was in Melbourne, that’s the greatest photo ever taken of me. Could you please send me over four poster-sized prints?” He’d already asked Blackie [Bruce’s boss] and I asked him if that would be alright and he said, “You’re going to take the rest of the afternoon off, print the photos, and The Age will send them over tonight”. About three weeks later – it took the photos that long to get there – he had framed and autographed one of the prints and sent it back to me with a beautiful letter saying: “Thanks very much for this picture”.

‘Sammy came back to Australia 18 months later to do a Hilton Hotel tour and he rang me from the Hilton and said, “Bruce, Sammy Davis Jnr here. I’ve got this show at the Hilton, I want you and your wife, or you and your girlfriend – I don’t know your marriage status – but you can bring both of them if you like”.

‘We went along to the show and we had a table about 20 feet from centre stage. There was a bottle of French champagne on the table with a note hanging off it: “Thanks for the photo – Sammy Davis Jnr”. The guy did a two-hour show, left the stage, showered and changed and came up, shook us both by the hand and said, “Now I’m going to buy you a drink”. He sat with us for 30 minutes and his guard came up and said, “You’re supposed to be somewhere else”, and he said, “No I’m not, I’m supposed to be here with Bruce having a drink with him”, which was really nice. Anyway he had to leave to go somewhere else, but he was a lovely man, a fantastic person, and he loved that photo.’

Shadow of a shaky existence

Shadow of a shaky existence, 1987. Photo: Bruce Postle.

‘One day I was driving into town and I saw this lady walking down Punt Road. She had all her valuables in a trolley. I was on the wrong side of Punt Road – in peak hour traffic – so I did a left-hand turn and parked in a side street. I ran down the road with a 300mm lens – I knew I was going to need it because I was shooting right across the road to the other side.

‘When I first saw her there was no shadow, there was no brick wall behind her, but when I came back I witnessed this amazing scene. I got one frame between cars – there’s a car in the corner of the picture and the moment after I took this there was a big truck behind this car and by the time the truck had gone through the picture the brick wall had finished and the shadow had gone.

‘I went back to work with this photo and I was called into the editor’s office and he said, “Bruce, it’s a great picture of a homeless person but we’re not going to use it until you take a print out of it to her and ask her permission”. I thought that was fantastic.

‘It took me three days to find her and when I did, I showed her the print and she had nowhere to put it but she said, “I’ll put this up in the Salvation Army place where I have breakfast every morning”. So I asked her, “Can we use it?” and she said, “Yes, I’ve always wanted to be on the front page of the Age”, which is where they used it. I was really pleased that the editor said that to me – to go and find her and ask her – for her to be able to put that up in the Salvation Army place made a nice finish to the story.’

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