Kim Tonelli was the MCC Guest Speaker on 1 April 2021. Kim entertained us with images she made during her heyday. She was in London throughout the nineties photographing icons of the music scene. Many of her images were featured in magazines including on the covers of Rolling Stone. In sharing some of her more recent work we saw her growth as a remarkable photojournalist – someone who in her words loves “art and people”.
If you missed her presentation you can replay a recording of the event via the MCC website.
We all know that to be successful at anything good training is not enough. You also need the alchemy of passion to bring your hard earned training to life. Tonelli has achieved this – with a dash of understated bravado. After all she is a woman who carved her own path into, and succeeded in, a very male dominated world.
After graduating from RMIT Tonelli made her debut as a photojournalist in London when it became the epicentre of pop culture. She loved the gritty professionalism of working with Blondie, David Bowie, Paul Weller Oasis, Blur, and The Who.
But how did a 22 year old Australian girl break into the most esteemed circles of London’s rock glitterati? Certainly she had mastered enough of her craft, had a determined work ethic, and could engage her subjects in a way that set her apart from others. She worked fast – used a wide angle lense, good styling, appropriate locations, and above all, understood how to use light to depict her subjects as personalities. But there was also a path, no doubt invisible to her at the time, that took her from photographing her brother’s band to touring with other bands in London. Then there was that threshold moment when she was invited to show her work to Mick Maveer who was about to launch a new rock magazine. He had good connections in the industry and all he needed was a good photographer. The door was opened and she walked right into the heart of the counter culture as it was emerging – exactly where she wanted to be professionally and personally. Tonelli’s work with pop stars led to commissions with some of the best known magazines and advertising companies of the time both in London and Australia- Levi’s, BBC Music, The Time, RACV,to name a few.
To make images in this genre required a certain daring. Like a war correspondent she had to hold her nerve when shooting some of the tough guys in the business or jump neck-deep in water to get the shot she wanted. Responding to her subjects so that they revealed who they truely were is central to her work.
We see this in her personal work too which incidentally she said is essential to showcase when you apply for work – it shows the breadth of what you can do. Tonelli’s black and white images of Indians not only revealed her delight in their “fantastic faces” but communicate “the amazing spirit of people with no money but so much love.” Her photo narrative of her mother during COVID entitled Vulnerability is about her mother finding comfort in her poignant reconnecting with Italy and her deceased husband. The images of this older woman are rendered with a tender love. The key in communicating these feelings is knowing how to use light to create the right atmosphere – an ambience that reflects the inner world of a person. In this we might agree with Tonelli when she said that she is a “painter of light”.
By Helen Lang
The video is available on the Members Video Library page