Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

Athol Shmith AM (1914-1990) was one of Australia's foremost photographers. For more than fifty years, he was a renowned leader is portrait, fashion and social photography. His work stands today not only as a reminder of the greatness of his style, but as an inspiration to present and future generations of photographers. The Schmith style was as particular, as individual, as the man himself.

Athol Shmith was born in St Kilda on the 19th August 1914. His father bought him his first camera when he was fourteen. After leaving school, he set up his first studio, in his parents' drawing room, where he began to take society portraits. In 1932, he established a studio in Fitzroy st, above a dentist's surgery. Two years later, he photographed the first of the many weddings that he did throughout his career - the Bailieu-Hordern wedding, in Toorak.

In 1939, he moved to larger premises in Colllins Street, then home to some of Melbourne's most famous photographers. Shmith began to photograph concert celebrities brought to Australia by the ABC; they included Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, and Eugene Goossens. His other theatrical and celebrity portraits included Noel Coward, H. G. Wells, Vivien Leigh, Cecil Beaton, Robert Helpmann, Laurence Olivier and Chico Marx.

Athol Shmith was most admired for his fashion photography, establishing a style that was to become his hallmark: elegance and simplicity of design. He began by recruiting socialites as models. By the late 1940s, when modelling had become a more specialised profession, Shmith made many of his subjests famous in their own right. They included Maggie Tabberer, Elly Lukas and his second wife, Patricia Tuckwell.

In 1968, Shmith helped establish the department of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria. In 1971, he moved away from commercial work and became the head of the department of photography at Prahran College, working with Paul Cox. His students included the late Carol Jerrems, Steven Lojewski and Bill Henson. In 1979, after a bought of ill health, Shmith retired; his place as the College was taken by his business partner, John Cato.

During the 1980s, Shmith works from his South Yarra home, doing weddings and portraits, including Barry Humphries and the British musician Carl Davis. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1981. In 1989, the National Gallery of Victoria held a retrospective of Shmith's work. He died in October 1990.