Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits


As visceral as the experience of watching a great film may be, a single image – whether a photograph from a film set, a frozen moment or a marketing shot – can resonate as much as the film itself. Yet these images do not just ‘appear.’ A still photographer captures such moments, documenting the creation, interactions and processes of our cinematic worlds.

In general, the photos surrounding the process of filmmaking are not thought of as art objects or as portraiture. Yet Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits, presented by the National Portrait Gallery and National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, displays these photographs precisely as portraiture. Covering 100 years of Australian filmmaking, Starstruck reveals behind-the-scenes and promotional images from culturally significant films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Muriel’s Wedding and My Brilliant Career.

Rather than working by theme or chronology, the show plays out like a film narrative.

As co-curator Penelope Grist explains, “The exhibition is structured around particular stories, almost like a film script; it has a beginning, a journey and a resolution.” Yet the ultimate intention of the exhibition is to conjure the atmosphere and story of each image. “Every portrait has a self-contained world of its own,” says Grist. “The still photographer’s job on a film set is to capture the whole story and spirit of the film in one frame and that’s our guiding brief as well; to see these portraits as emblematic of the whole fictional film world, but also the real story of the making of the film.”

In this way Starstruck takes portraiture back to its most basic tenets (a picture of a person) and looks to the form’s central and sustaining tension; the divide between performance and reality.

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus