Exposed! The Gervaise Purcell Collection

In 2008 while researching and developing the museum’s travelling exhibition Exposed! The story of Swimwear, I was contacted by Leigh Purcell, the son of respected Australian commercial photographer Gervaise Purcell (1919 – 1999). His work from the late 1940s covered a variety of fashion and maritime related subjects for clients including retailing giants David Jones and Hordern Bros, radio technology manufacturer Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA), swimwear manufacturer Jantzen, tourism operator Ansett Airways, and cruise ship operators P&O.

Photo of lady in one piece swim suit on beach

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion shoot with Beverley Evans at Kurnell, Sydney, 1957. ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Photo of two men and one woman at table on cruise liner

Fashion shoot for Jantzen fashion on Matson liner SS Monterey, 1957.
ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy Leigh Purcell

Leigh told me he still had his father’s Graflex Crown Graphic camera, camera accessories and a box of negatives including some from swimwear fashion shoots in the 1950s. I jumped at the chance to see his father’s commercial work and so we met at the museum’s photography studio to view the negatives.  Leigh kindly allowed our photographer Andrew Frolows to digitally scan a selection of the negatives into positives. This process revealed arresting fashion images that were clearly perfect for inclusion in the museum’s swimwear exhibition.  I was hooked.

Discussions were soon underway to borrow Gervaise Purcell’s photographic equipment and a selection of images for display.

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display

Exhibition view of Gervaise Purcell display in Exposed! The Story of Swimwear at the Australian National Maritime Museum 2009. Photographer Andrew Frolows ANMM.

At the time I hoped that the museum would eventually acquire this rich and diverse photographic archive as much of Purcell’s commercial photographs had not been seen publically for decades and were a valuable record of Australian maritime related business ventures in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the intervening years I kept in touch with Leigh and to my delight in 2012 he offered his father’s photographic negatives and equipment to the museum. I wrote a proposal to acquire this material into the National Maritime Collection which was thankfully approved.  First hurdle leapt.

Now the substantial and exacting task of documenting and scanning the collection of 3,000 negatives is underway.  Our registrar Tennille Noach is bringing the collection to light so you can enjoy these evocative photographs as much as we both do. Look out for Tennile’s upcoming blog post about this fabulous photographic collection.

Penny Cuthbert
Curator Sport and Leisure History

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  1. Pingback: Gervais Purcell: hats, photography and fashion of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s | Australian National Maritime Museum

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