Mark Strizic (b.Marco Strizic 1928 Berlin 19.04.1928 – d. Wallan 08.12.2012) migrated to Australia from Croatia in 1950 and became a widely published architectural and industrial photographer, portraitist of significant Australians, and fine art photographer/painter known for his multimedia mural work. He, and other postwar immigrant photographers Wolfgang Sievers, Henry Talbot and Helmut Newton exerted significant influence on Australian photography, particularly in its transition to Modernism. He taught photography at tertiary level in Melbourne from 1978, and in 1984 he became a full time artist, photographer and designer. The winner of a number of photographic awards and grants, he exhibited his work widely from 1958 onwards. Strizic’s work is represented in the Australian National Gallery and several state galleries. He settled in Richmond, subsequently moving with his wife Sue to Surrey Hills, Melbourne, and finally to Wallan in country Victoria, living there until his death in 2012.
Strizic was born in 1928 in Berlin, where his father Zdenko Von Strizic (1902-1990) was studying and practising architecture (later becoming a Professor of Architecture). In 1934, in reaction to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the family fled to Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). There Strizic began to study physics and geology.
At the end of WW2 Strizic fled to Austria as a refugee following the liberation of Yugoslavia to escape the Communist regime. As there was a five-year waiting period to emigrate to the United States, he decided to go instead to Australia and departed Naples on the converted Australian Navy seaplane carrier Hellenic Prince, arriving in Melbourne in April 1950. There his good spoken English soon gained him a position as a clerk with the Victorian Railways Reclamation Department, and he resumed his studies in physics part-time at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1952 he married Hungarian-born Sue. Strizic bought his first camera, a Dianette, and began to photograph his environment, developing a love of strong light which he found abundant under the clear skies of his adopted city. He enjoyed contre-jour (shooting into the sun) and low afternoon side-lighting effects for their high-contrast graphic silhouettes in black and white prints, and that became his signature style for his historically and culturally significant photographs of post-war Melbourne. His abandonment of physics in 1957 for a career in photography was encouraged by his father (who visited Melbourne in 1957 as guest professor at the School of Architecture Melbourne University) and through his friendship with David Saunders (who had stayed with Strizic’s parents in Yugoslavia in 1952.1 Saunders, a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Melbourne who was then acting Assistant Director at the National Gallery of Victoria, provided increasingly frequent photography commissions. In 1957 Saunders introduced him to Leonard French, an artist and the Gallery’s Exhibitions Officer, who asked him to document exhibitions, including the 1959 retrospective of cabinet maker Schulim Krimper’s furniture.
Postwar industrialisation in Australia then led to work for BHP and Humes Limited and McPhersons, photographing the plants, manufacturing, products and workers for annual reports and advertising, while the concurrent housing boom provided further opportunities. Again through Saunders, in 1958 Strizic met modernist Robin Boyd of architectural firm Grounds, Romberg and Boyd, who became a major client. Boyd controversially criticised Australian suburban culture in his book The Australian Ugliness of 19602, and likewise Strizic’s photography began to illustrate Australians’ disdain for their architectural heritage and their scant regard for the visual aesthetics of their urban environment amidst the destruction of magnificent Gold Rush era buildings and verandahs and their replacement by high-rise modernist office-blocks. His work was widely published in architectural books and journals but also illustrated social commentary during this period of a national identity crisis with frequent contributions of his photo-essays to Walkabout, Australia Today and other travel magazines. In 1960 Strizic joined David Saunders to produce Melbourne: A Portrait, stating 'Its central thought is that while men make cities, the cities also affect the men’.3
Having become the first photographer to exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, Strizic moved more emphatically into fine art, finding a market for large scale mural installations amongst corporate clients. He began combining, enlarging, cropping and transforming elements from his black and white negatives through montage, then colourising and posterising the monochrome images in the manner associated with Pop Art. Symbols of urban ugliness such as power poles and billboards were his subject matter and critical target in often apocalyptic imagery intended to provoke a social consciousness. Strizic was an early adopter of digital imaging for the construction of such works (he discussed these processes in an address to “Still Photography?”, International Symposium in Melbourne, 1994.
Strizic lectured in photography at a number of tertiary education institutions including Preston (Phillip) Institute of Technology (1975-1977); Melbourne College of Advanced Education (Lecturer in Charge of Photography 1977-1982) and the Victorian College of the Arts (part-time lecturer in Photography 1982-1984).
1. 'Professor’s wife from Yugoslavia’, The Age, May 15 1957
2. Boyd, Robin 1960, The Australian ugliness, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne
3. joint statement by the authors of Strizic, Mark & Saunders, David 1960, Melbourne : a portrait, Georgian House, Melbourne p.1