British photographer David Mist captured this view of William Street, Sydney, in 1969. The image was recently used by fashion designer Sally Smith to create a simple silk shift dress and top. Kathy Hackett, photo librarian at the Powerhouse Museum, tells the story.
In 1969, young British photographer David Mist captured Sydney’s William Street at night, after rain, for his publication Sydney: a book of photographs. David recalls, ‘The William Street photo was taken on a rainy night looking up the street from the city. What made it attractive was the reflections in the street of the neon lights of the advertising signs. It was quite a simple and straightforward shot to take. I waited for a rainy night to get that effect and it was shot on 35mm slide film. I didn’t like to shoot on 35mm then because it was difficult to reproduce in print but the blurring effect of the lights worked for this photo.’
The book, commissioned by Paul Hamlyn, was part of a series called Cities of the World with text in English, French and German. Thirty thousand copies of Sydney were sold. David remembers the shoots clearly:
‘I worked on it for over a year and I photographed buildings, events like surf carnivals and launches all over Sydney. The publisher wanted a representational book, with photographs of landmarks and historical buildings but I preferred a more atmospheric look so I also did shots of people doing things like playing chess. I went to a great deal of trouble to get a black and white shot of fog over the Harbour Bridge with a fisherman in silhouette. It was used on one version of the cover.’
By the time David Mist took the William Street photograph he was well established in Sydney. He arrived in Australia from England in 1960, having documented the maiden voyage of P&O’s S.S. Canberra on the way. In London he trained at Baron Studios in Mayfair and Studio Five where he worked with John Eales and as an assistant to Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and John French. He later worked for Ambassador Magazine, established David Mist & Partners and undertook editorial assignments for Vanity Fair. David met many Australians in London, among them photographers Laurence Le Guay and John Nisbett. He joined the studio of Le Guay and Nisbett at Castlereagh Street in 1961. In 1963 the studio was renamed Studio Ten with David as a Co-Director. Studio Ten became one of Sydney’s leading commercial and fashion photography studios through to the 1980s.
David’s clients included QANTAS, Pierre Cardin, Sekers Silks, Flair Magazine, David Jones, Grace Brothers, Westfield and Richards. He photographed many of Australia’s top models such as Nerida Piggin, Lynn Sutherland and Maggi Eckardt. Following the publication of Sydney was Made in Australia, a book that celebrated high achieving Australian women.
David Mist gifted the Studio Ten archive to the Museum in 1992 and his own archive in 1996. The David Mist Archive Collection, overseen by MAAS Curator Anne-Marie Van de Ven, comprises personal, exhibition, commercial and fashion photography, spanning the period from 1957–95. It is a rich resource of fashion and documentary images of Sydney as well as overseas locations including Europe, the USA, Asia and Mexico.
Photographs from the David Mist Archive Collection were displayed in Swinging Sydney, an exhibition of David’s work at the Museum of Sydney produced in partnership with MAAS in 2008 and in MAAS exhibitions such as Mod to Memphis, Gambling in Australia and Modern Times. Many images were posted on the Museum’s Photo of the Day blog (2008–2014).
William Street at night (1969) was selected in 2014 as a large print for display in the MAAS Director’s office. A test strip made by Jean-François Lanzarone became the catalyst for a new project when I noticed that the intense colours of the reflections on the wet road were ideal for printing on silk. David liked the idea so I took it to Sydney fashion designer Sally Smith who, after discussions with Mark Small, Director Commercial at MAAS, created a simple silk shift dress and top incorporating David’s photograph. Sally was also inspired by the colours of the William Street at night photograph: ‘The neon lights, vibrant in the falling rain, worked back the petrol silk and hand paint splicing of the shift.’
A photograph on 35mm transparency film reborn as wearable art is a good example of a fusion of applied arts and sciences and reminds us of the value of archives as a source of inspiration. The William Street garments have been well received by David’s family. His wife, Kathleen, daughter Sarah and daughter-in-law Alisa have all acquired a piece for their wardrobes.