Berowra Creek Fashions?

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Leigh Studios, Berowra Creek NSW, 1907-1924 Glass plate negative Collection State Library of New South Wales

What looks like a scene out of the film Picnic at Hanging Rock, is the majestic bushland setting of Berowra Creek dated circa 1907-1924. Unlike the ill-fated disappearance of the school girls depicted in Picnic at Hanging Rock, these young women were possibly there on a fashion shoot assignment pitching the new look of the modern woman with the flow and energy of the natural environment as the backdrop.

This was a prosperous time coming out of the horrifying effects of World War One, society was on the cusp of change and the idea of progress was considered a key part of this change. Women were becoming a stronger presence ‒ empowered by the right to vote and supporting the war effort on the home front was recognised within wider society. The dress code for women had become more relaxed with looser and more comfortable fitting low waist dresses, concealing showing curvy hips favoured by Victorian times. The bobbed hair style enhanced a boyish look that challenged perceptions about the traditional role of women. It may be difficult to recognise this as a fashion shoot in its sedateness and nativity as compared with the fast pace ones of today, but for its time the photograph cultivates the idea of the modern woman reflected through fashion. The bushland setting of Berowra Creek represented an ideal setting for conveying this sense of new found freedom.

One of the key design studios of the day was Rousel which created the original billboards advertising the latest fashion for the opening of the Elizabeth Street David Jones store in 1927. Around the same time Leigh Studios Pty Ltd located at 122 Clarence St Sydney served both as a photographic studio and printing service. We know that Leigh Studios took this photograph using the glass plate negative technique which warrants the hand of a specialised photographer in producing high quality images normally used in the commercial, retail or documentary sector.

So what may look like a relaxing day with three young girls braving the wilds of the Berowra bushland could well be a staged photograph that never hit the billboards, or did it? Or, is this simply a story about a group of young women hiring a professional photographer for the day to record their adventures in the bush?

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