MAGGIE DIAZ – BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
79 Langridge St, Collingwood
19th February- 8th March 2017
Ph: 03 8560 3583
Suppose you knew nothing about photographer, Maggie Diaz, and you wandered into the Fox Gallery in Collingwood. You’d find an exhibition of mainly limited edition archival pigment prints and a selection of mounted original silver gelatin prints.
You may note that some were shot in the 1950’s in America and others were shot in and around Melbourne mainly in the 1960’s and ’70’s. Glimpses of worlds in 2 continents, but insights into numerous worlds of her subjects.
Especially the contrasts between the lives of the wealthy and those who lived on the streets.
Maggie Diaz was an American photographer. She arrived in Australia by ship in 1961 on a one-way ticket (a divorce gift from her ex-husband). She soon gained a reputation as an important emigre artist and never returned to her homeland. She died in St Kilda in October 2016 after a protracted battle with dementia.
Who was Maggie Diaz? Johan Scheffer, Victorian ex-parliamentarian, has known her for 40 years. He said that many people felt they had a special relationship with her. “She made you feel special – and you were. I think that translates into her photos as well – the capturing of a moment in time that tells a story.”
This exhibition is partly a commemoration of Diaz, but it’s also a celebration of the intertwining of two other worlds. That of Maggie and that of her dedicated curator and special soulmate, Gwendolen de Lacy.
There’s no one alive more knowledgeable about Maggie Diaz than Gwen. She has painstakingly helped collate and label over 30,000 negatives which are now archived with the State Library of Victoria.
Gwendolen was a 16 year – old performer when her boyfriend first introduced her to Maggie in the mid-1980’s. She needed photos for her portfolio. Being something of a naive “hills girl” from the Dandenongs, she found the cosmopolitan, well-lived Diaz overpowering, demanding, yet somehow exciting.
Maggie insisted on a 12-hour shoot, which produced among other things the hauntingly beautiful ethereal “girl behind the veil”. It was, however, a series of photos considered by de Lacy’s agent as too arty and moody for an actor’s portfolio. Nevertheless, photographer and subject developed a firm friendship that would span over 30 years.
Maggie was Gwendolen’s mentor showing her the ropes for life as an actor/artist. Gwendolen is the devotee who brought the often broke photographer to her home for a meal and a bit of family life. She is the nurturer and carer, who not only assisted Diaz in promoting her work, but also tended to her in the final years, when in the grip of dementia, Maggie floated between two worlds.
Even though Diaz has left the mortal coil, Gwendolen still feels the soul connection. Maggie’s spirit now sits on her shoulder and whispers in her ear.
I‘m sure Diaz must be tremendously proud of her protégée. But even now, Gwendolen tells me, the photographer can still be a bit demanding.
If you’d like to know more about Maggie Diaz, pop along to the State Library of Victoria from 4pm to 5.30pm this Friday, 25 February 2017. There’ll be a special birthday memorial service at in the Experimedia Space.
Madeleine Say, who has been involved with the Diaz Collection since its launch in 2005, and overseen the handover of the archive as Manager of the Picture Collections Department, will be host for the event. There’ll be an eulogy from Johan Scheffer and a slide show “I Don’t Do Sweet” with Maggie’s “timeless commentary”.