Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rennie Ellis: Life’s a Beach

Hark! Is that summer I sense, tentatively showing its unfamiliar face? Of course, I could be speaking too soon, but it does seem to be warming up here in sunny (yes, you read that correctly) Melbourne. That calls for a celebratory end-of-year post featuring the early beach photography of my favourite Aussie photographer, Rennie Ellis…

Back view, Lorne, c. 1968. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive
Born in Brighton and educated at Brighton Grammar, Reynolds Mark ‘Rennie’ Ellis (1940-2003) was something of a Renaissance man, working as an advertising copywriter, seaman, creative director, author, gallery owner and TV presenter over the course of his career. But more than anything, he was a photographer, with an instinct for capturing Australian society in all its idiosyncratic glory.
Union Jack, Lorne, c. 1968. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright: Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.
While his subject matter was by no means limited to home soil (he took photos all over the world), it’s his Australian work that resonates most with me. According to the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive, maintained by his second wife and his former assistant, Ellis saw his photographic excursions as a series of encounters with other people's lives. And what people they were: high-spirited and hedonistic, fun-loving and footloose, unconventional and unselfconscious.

Four sunbathers, Lorne 1968. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.
It was during the 1970s and 1980s that Ellis really developed his signature style, taking iconic photos of Aussies at play: at parties, rock concerts, nightclubs, footy matches, the races — and, of course, the beach. But even in the late 1960s, the signs were there, as the photos featured in this post attest.

Surfer with girl, Lorne, c. 1968. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.
Apparently, Lorne was the place to be on the Great Ocean Road during the 1950s and 1960s (stay tuned for a post on that soon), a bohemian hot-spot which attracted truckloads of young groovers from Melbourne during summer. By night, they’d hit the Wild Colonial Club to catch all the era’s hippest bands; by day, they could be found swimming, surfing and sunning themselves at the beach.

And who better to immortalise this swinging seaside scene than Rennie Ellis?

Volleyball, Lorne, c. 1967. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.
Lindy Hobbs Surfing World, Lorne, c. 1968. Photo: Rennie Ellis, copyright Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive
Just as the music of The Easybeats or the sight of a koala in its natural habitat inspire a stronger sense of patriotism in me than usual, the same can be said of Rennie Ellis’s portraits. There’s something about their joyful exuberance, and their complete absence of value judgements, that makes me feel proud to be an Aussie. (And trust me, there’s not a lot these days that does..).

Want more Rennie? Check out the fantastic Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive NOW!


  1. Brighton girl Miss Lindy Hobbs had a Los Angeles phase to her amazing life and she directed Back To The Beach in which Annette Funicello of Beach Blanket Bingo graced the cast.
    Everyone loved Rennie Ellis, a lovely guy.

    1. I've just been Googling Lindy Hobbs - wow! She's had an illustrious life. I would never have known, so thanks for that tip Ann O'Dyne. I'm not sure if I've seen "Back to the Beach" - I don't think I have (I'm sure I'd remember it). So you knew Rennie Ellis? I bet he was an absolute blast to hang out with... I hope you're writing your memoirs :-)