May MOOREMina MOORE, Actress Elizabeth 'Lily' Brayton [Mrs Oscar Asche] Enlarge 1 /1


Aotearoa New Zealand 1881 – Australia 1931

  • May Moore Australia from 1910


New Zealand 1883 – Australia 1957

  • Australia 1911

Actress Elizabeth 'Lily' Brayton [Mrs Oscar Asche] c.1916 Description: Cat.No.314
Title Notes: idnetified by Alan Davies Curator of Photographs Satte Library NSW see registry for comaprable portrait file.
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph

Primary Insc: Inscirbed white letters l.l. image; 'May and Mina /MOORE/copyright'
Dimensions: printed image 19.9 h x 15.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1603

Sisters Annie May (May) and Minnie Louise (Mina) Moore ran photographic studios, first in Wellington and then in Sydney and Melbourne. Their work was most often jointly stamped ‘May and Mina Moore’ and was remarkably consistent. They portrayed their subjects in head and shoulder shots, focusing attention exclusively on the face through the use of dramatic lighting and dark backgrounds.

From the 1880s until well after the turn of the century, women in photography were more commonly employed as retouchers and hand-colourists. The number of women running photographic studios, however, increased noticeably around 1910. This was an era in which the graceful and distant Edwardian ‘ladies’ shown in so many paintings of the late 19th and early 20th century were being replaced by the jazz age flappers and mass media celebrities. The Moore sisters were themselves typical ‘modern women’ of the 1910s–1930s in seeking their independence and social mobility through new types of careers in photography. They both mixed in artistic circles and May, in particular, was interested in the theatre. Their success surprised the critics even as late as the 1930s, when the Australian Worker in 1931 stated about May: ‘practically every artist, musician, critic, journalist, story-writer and poet of local celebrity was at some time or other a subject for her camera.’1

It is not clear which sister made this striking close-up of a stylish young woman (who may have been an actress or entertainer as the image was registered for copyright). She is shown in the recognisable Moore style but with particular verve as she stares straight into the camera, head slightly lowered in the femme fatale guise made popular in celebrity portraits and stills for the silent movies. Through the mass circulation of celebrity images everyone could have their favourite star for their wall.

Anne O’Hehir

1The Australian Worker, 24 June 1931, p.1.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002