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State Library sets sights on Postle archive

The State Library of Victoria is attempting to raise $75,000 to secure the historic archive of legendary Australian photojournalist, Bruce Postle.

Elephant in the room, 1972. Photo: Bruce Postle.

The Library is asking for public donations by June 30 to help acquire the Bruce Postle archive, spanning the 1950s ’til now.

‘Nearly every Australian would have seen a Bruce Postle photograph,’ said Kate Torney, State Library Victoria CEO. ‘He scaled bridges and braved floods, fires and mobs to put viewers in the moment and capture the spirit of his subjects – be it a sporting star, performer, factory worker or politician.

‘Bruce’s extraordinary photographs give us a candid glimpse into the evolution of Australian life during the second half of the 20th century. With the public’s support we can protect this stunning collection, making it available for everyone to discover, re-discover and enjoy.’

Bruce’s remarkable personal archive consists of 100,000 items, including prints, transparencies, and ephemera.

The collection includes iconic photos Bruce captured across a broad range of topics, from politics such as Malcolm Fraser in his pyjamas lying in bed while on the telephone; the 1970 Vietnam War moratorium rallies; tragedies including the aftermath of the 1970 West Gate Bridge collapse and the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires; musicians and the arts, like The Rolling Stones first tour in 1965 and Sammy Davis Jr in 1977; sports; candid street photos; and bizarre moments such as ‘the elephant in the room’.

‘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.

Bruce has a reputation for risking it all for the shot, and would often spontaneously capture great photos while travelling between jobs.

‘I’ve been passionate about photography ever since I took my first photo of the family cat when I was nine. I’ve lost and destroyed 36 cameras over the course of my career all in the name of getting “that shot”,’ he told the State Library of Victoria. ‘I have always loved telling stories through pictures and the public’s support for this appeal will help bring those stories to life for future generations to come.’

Bruce’s photography career began in Brisbane, 1958, at Queensland Country Life. He then worked for the Courier Mail, and in 1969 on his first day at Melbourne’s The Age he snapped a front-page picture.

Former editor for The Age, Michael Smith, who worked with Bruce for 25 years, said that the photojournalist would often elevate an article to the front page because of his accompanying picture. He sums up the photographers best photos with one word: ‘Wizard.’

‘He was a wizard in the sense of being exceptionally clever and skillful. And he was a wizard for being able to conjure or create a stunning picture from routine ingredients. Some of his most memorable shots were staged or composed, a technique that brought equal amounts of admiration and controversy.’

Smith added that ‘when Postle applied his personal qualities of passion, persistence, charm, cunning and sense of humor and mischief’, he’d end up with unforgettable moments such as a Prime Minister in his PJ’s or an elephant having a beer at the pub.

The Bruce Postle Archive will be the largest photography collection acquired by the State Library of Victoria.

Click here to donate and see more photos.

Here’s Bruce telling stories about two of his favourite images:

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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