Skip to main content
Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Bill Henson

In their own words

Recorded 2021

Bill Henson on Simone Young
Audio: 1 minute 56 seconds

I didn’t want to make pictures which were just a document of something else. I wanted to make pictures which were a thing in their own right. And so, by photographing her in the pit with an orchestra rehearsing, I just thought this [is] just never going to look as interesting as in its own right. So the picture becomes the subject rather than, you know, the event that’s being documented being the subject. This is one of those great conundrums for photographers. I organised for Simone to visit me in my studio. We had a conversation, I said ‘Well look, what are you working on at the moment?’ She was preparing to conduct the Rosenkavalier, the Richard Strauss. And I said, ‘Oh well, you know, why don’t we put it on and why don’t you conduct to the music?’ I said, ‘You know, it’s strange, of course.’ And she said, ‘It’s very strange, because I lead, whereas if I listen to a recording and try to conduct, I’m following the recording.’ And I said, ‘Well it might be interesting for you, let’s give it a go.’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, the only recording that I really have been listening to carefully is by Erich Kleiber, and, you know, you’re not going to have that.’ And I go, ‘Well here it is.’

She got into it, and she started conducting and I was just taking pictures and we kept going and we kept going and we both got quite a good sweat up. In fact in the end we – she conducted the whole opera. Like, we were having a lot of fun. She was like, going off and I just kept shooting it and shooting it and shooting it and at the end of it like a normal session that I would do with one of my models, it was like both people are kind of exhausted and perspiring. And she packed up and caught a cab and I went back to the lab and started working on the pictures.

You know, there are lots of things that are interesting and they’re technically fine but you’re looking for that sort of special thing in a shoot, and so over the process of weeks, or months or years in some cases you narrow it down to those few images that you think are essential or that capture something, that are somehow compelling. And yeah, [I] narrowed it down to three. I couldn’t get it down to one. That’s how the process worked.

Acknowledgements

This recording was made during interviews for the National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Stories series.

Related people

Simone Young AM

© National Portrait Gallery 2022
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency