A show featuring photographs of rock stars, models, actors and other glamorous people might seem like an odd fit for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). But as Glynis Jones, who curated the exhibition Glitterati by photographer Robert Rosen, points out, “We consider this a social history exhibition… We live in a very complex social world and we love building networks and relationships; we have this social curiosity. And part of our socialisation is talking; we love gossiping and consuming images of celebrities and famous people, and people who just look fabulous as well.”
And the people Rosen photographed do look both famous and fabulous: from the 1970s onwards he took thousands of snaps, capturing moments from social scenes to cultural celebrities like Paul and Linda McCartney, Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, and David Bowie.
Born in South Africa and raised in Melbourne, Rosen likes to say he turned to photography after being told he couldn’t paint at art school. In the 1970s he moved first to Sydney, and then, like so many of his generation, he went overseas to try his luck in London. There Rosen found he had a flair for getting into glitzy events (with or without an invitation), and many of his most famous photographs were shot in London during the 1970s and 1980s. But Rosen has a had a peripatetic practice, and during the period covered in Glitterati, which spans from 1979 to 2010, he also photographed the bold and the beautiful in New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Paris.
One of the striking things about the photos in Glitterati is just how relaxed Rosen’s subjects seem in front of the lens; these are not celebrities being harried by the paparazzi. “A social photograph is a relationship between the photographer and the subject, it’s a collaboration. And they loved him. They felt very safe with him,” Jones explains. “And I think that’s why his photos are so lovely.”
Powerhouse Museum: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS)
11 October – closing date to be confirmed
This article was originally published in the July/August 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.