Rennie Ellis, circa 1978. Portrait by Robert Ashton
Without even a smidge of formal training, Rennie Ellis became the prime documentarian of Australian culture in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He’s like Australia’s version of Stephen Shore, Larry Clark, and Nan Goldin all mushed up into one big, awesome photography ball. There was rarely a moment when Ellis wasn’t traveling Australia taking photos of the people and places that he loved. He was the kind of guy who would be hanging out with junkies in Kings Cross, Sydney, and then the next day be photographing some chichi cocktails-and-cocaine party. But although his subject matter is wide in range, there’s a distinctive quality to all of it—a sense that the people in the pictures, regardless of how compromising the situation, were more than obliging for his lens.
The full extent of Rennie’s work, much of it as yet unseen, is currently being archived. A collection of his photographs will be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne later this year.