Australian Women's Register

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Warren, Helena (c. 1871 - 1963)

Born
c. 1871
Bulumwaal,, Victoria, Australia
Died
1963
Orbost, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Photo journalist and Photographer
Alternative Names
  • Warren, Helena Frances

Summary

Helena Warren was known for her press photography and trompe l'oeil postcard images. She worked in the goldfields district, supplementing the family income with the income of her commercial work. Entirely self-taught, her first camera was an Austral Box quarter-plate camera.

Details

Helena Warren was born in Bulumwaal, close to Bairnsdale, Victoria, c.1871. She was one of six children (the second of four daughters and twin brothers) born to her parents, Edward McKeown and Mary Damson.

Her parents were gold miners and moved from town to town in their quest for gold. Warren was only three months old during one of these moves; her mother carried her in her arms sitting sidesaddle on a horse. Eventually the family gave up gold mining, as it did not bring the rewards they anticipated, and bought a farm in Mossiface, near Bruthen, and settled there. When Warren turned 29, she married one of her neighbours and the couple established a farm in Newmerella, near Orbost.

In 1904, at the age of 33, Warren acquired her first camera by postal order: an Austral Box quarter-plate camera, which she used throughout her life. Warren taught herself all there was to know about photography through trial and error. She was said to have loaded her first roll of film in daylight, completely ruining it. As the only photographer in the district she gained a lot of work, and used her living room as a darkroom at night. Her semi-commercial photographic work supplemented the family income and enabled them to purchase luxuries such as a piano.

Her photographs documented all aspects of life in the district, portraiture, sporting events, flower and animal studies, Snowy River scenes, soldiers and families. She shot her portraits out of doors using a sheet as a backdrop to simulate a studio setting and also experimented with collage, incorporating leaves into her photographs to create postcards.

Some of her photographs were published in newspapers such as The Weekly Times and one photograph was published in The London Strand magazine.

She was one of the founding members of the Country Women's Association and was renowned for her abundant energy and her prize-winning handiwork (sewing, soft toys, woodwork).

Helena Warren died aged 91 in Orbost, Victoria, c.1962.

Collections

Mrs. Ivy E.E. Rodwell, Cooma, New South Wales (Private Collection)

Events

1900s - 1953
Active as a semi-commercial photographer and press photographerl. Location: Victoria.
1981
Exhibition - Helena Warren's work featured in Australian Women Photographers 1840-1950. Location: George paton Gallery, Melbourne, Victoria.

Sources used to compile this entry: Hall, Barbara and Mather, Jenni, Australian Women Photographers 1840 - 1960, Greenhouse Publications, Richmond, Victoria, 1986, 164 pp; 'Helena Warren', in Design and Art Australia Online, https://www.daao.org.au/bio/helena-warren/; Kerr, Joan (ed.), Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, Craftsman House, Roseville East, NSW, 1995, 483 pp.

Anne Maxwell (with Morfia Grondas and Lucy Van)

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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