Sue Barnes

“Fashion brings out style qualities in others. It is changing the way we are looking at certain things and acceptance of norms that perhaps as you get older, you struggle with a bit.”

Sue Barnes working as a Makeup Artist

Sue Barnes is a photographer, and hair and makeup artist. She is the tutor of the current course, “For the Love of Fashion”.

Sue has also run a number of courses on iPhone photography. She joined U3APP in 2018 after returning from Bali where she had resided intermittently since 2014. Bali offered “a great escape” from Sue’s very busy career in Melbourne. She found the lifestyle relaxing and enjoyed documenting and involving herself in village life, where she made some very good friends, including her “Bali family.”

Once Sue made the decision to retire, she closed down her studios in the iconic Nicholas Building in Flinders Lane, intending to live more permanently in Bali. However, following a major volcano eruption and the Covid-19 pandemic, Sue decided to return to live in Melbourne. Having sold her property on the Mornington Peninsula, she had bought a small unit in St Kilda, “my bolt hole,” and began looking for new interests to pursue.

Sue’s neighbour who was involved with U3A, asked for some tips on using her iPhone camera. She then suggested that Sue run a course at U3APP. “So, I started a Basic iPhone photography course in 2018.” This led on to Sue running an Advanced course, and forming an iPhone Photography Group and subsequently, her current course “For The Love of Fashion.”

Where did you spend your childhood years? “I was born in Bayside, Melbourne where I grew up. My father was a part-time filmmaker, so I had photography and filmmaking as my background.” He was one of the TV cameramen for the 1956 Olympic Games, won many awards, in later years, for a number of video productions.

Sue has always lived “in the public eye,” and continues to feel energised in this way. “At the age of 4, my sister and I were taken to dance classes. So, by the age of 10, I was dancing professionally on television and in theatre. I learnt classical, tap, modern ballet, and on reflection I had a very ‘showbiz’ type of childhood… dancing in a children’s show on Channel 7, performing in productions at the Comedy Theatre.”

Looking back on those years, do you think you may have missed out on anything because of that? Sue responded emphatically, “no way, I had a fantastic time,” being directly involved and working with many famous and talented performers. Despite her mother’s preference that she attend university, Sue “wanted to remain a part of the entertainment industry.” However, in the late sixties, in Australia, “there was not a lot on offer, so I did the next best thing. I went behind the scenes and completed a hairdressing apprenticeship with one of Australia’s top hairdressers, John Morrey.” At 20 years old, after winning awards, Sue went to London to complete her studies with world renowned hairstylist, Vidal Sassoon.

Sue travelled between London and Australia over the next 10 years, establishing one of the first “punk hair studios” in South Yarra, aged just 25. She worked on John Morrey’s shows, and they toured Australia. “I was John’s creative director. Sue reflects that by the age of 30, “I decided to go out and freelance on my own… as a hair and makeup artist. I had a lot of experience, I loved fashion. Chadwick Models, one of Australia’s top agencies, took me on.”

By the age of 40, she “started to get a bit bored with standing on the sideline, doing hair and makeup.” She had grown up in a studio environment and decided to experiment with taking photos of models, “and all of a sudden I was booked out with doing photo shoots for models and actors…”

“I had a huge career really. I would do a lot of photographic work, with hair and makeup, for various agencies, including catwalk parades, music videos, tv commercials, big fashion events working with top models and celebrities.” She expanded her creative style by learning to use digital cameras, having a keen interest in advanced techniques and developments in photography. She opened Sue Barnes Studio, based for over 20 years in The Nicholas Building in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, also travelling on location and working with major designers and clients.

Sue has fond and nostalgic memories of working with John Farnham. “He would probably have been my most influential person at that time. I was very lucky to come into his world and work with him. His level of professionalism is “world stage”. He is just a gorgeous man. The whole experience really helped shape my career.” Sue won an award for one of John Farnham’s Album covers. Watching the movie John Farnham: Finding the Voice at the cinema recently, brought her to tears as she relived those precious memories.

For a change of pace, Sue moved to live in America for two years, travelling back and forth to Australia. She studied yoga and meditation at a meditation sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia and became their resident photographer. Sue was involved in making videos for the sanctuary, working on a book… also going on tour with the teacher.

What attracted you to yoga at that time? “Working in the fashion and advertising industries, was very high pressure, a lot of stress.” It was suggested that she try meditation, “so I did, and I loved it… yoga came very easily to me because of my dance background, it just evolved from there.”

What are some of the special highlights in your career? “Well, at the age of 30, representing Australia on the world stage with John Morrey, at the London Hair and Fashion Week at the Barbican Centre. Also touring with John Farnham, basically styling him, getting him ready “for video clips, photo sessions, huge shows at the Rod Laver Arena.”

In 1999 Sue put together with the milliner and model, a hat and outfit that won the Best Hat at the Melbourne Cup Fashion on the Fields competition. “Directing hair and makeup with teams of up to 14 people for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and Melbourne Fashion Festival since their inception in the mid 90’s also remains a highlight, as does working with various politicians especially a couple of Victorian Premiers during their political campaigns.” And realising her dream of exhibiting her fashion photography annually… “Myer Melbourne gave me an in-store retrospective of a black and white series titled ‘Backstage’ during one Fashion Week. That gave me a buzz!”

Over the years, in respect to fashion and models, have you observed changes in attitude towards body image, for instance? Sue has observed over recent years that some fashion models are not required to be exceptionally slender. “I think this is great, to break down those barriers of body image is fantastic. It’s not really about the outer, it’s about the inner beauty. We all have things about ourselves we don’t like. I think to be healthy and to understand your body is more important than the visual image.”

“These days artificial intelligence portrays big busts and narrow hips.” Sue is concerned that the younger generation believe these images are real and seek to emulate them.

What motivated you to commence your course, For the Love of Fashion? “I just felt that perhaps the curriculum lacked content that is modern with a fun twist. We have had great success with the fashion documentaries shown throughout this course. These range from haute couture designers such as Christian Dior to a 90-year-old New Yorker called Iris Apfel, who is a modern style icon.”

Sue explains that Iris Apfel is a fashion influencer for the older generation. “You don’t have to dress like her, but you can absorb her influence in how you view yourself.” She has noticed some changes in respect to the clothes or accessories that members may wear to the class.

Your thoughts on current fashion in relation to sustainability and other issues? Sue is aware of recent media focus in respect to Australia having the second highest rate of “trashing fashion” and believes this is due to the availability of cheap clothing made in third world countries. For instance, wages are low, poor working conditions enables companies to produce cheap clothing. Sue acknowledges fully that “we are all guilty of chasing a bargain most likely made in these countries.” In Term 4, she will be showing documentaries on fashion and sustainability. There are an increasing number of fashion companies which are introducing fabrics that have been recycled. But they are recycled synthetic fabrics, rather than sustainable cotton, wool and hemp.

“When we grew up, we only ever had cotton and wool clothing. We did not have polyester, this was introduced in the 50’s and 60’s.”

Sue believes that there needs to be “more education about sustaining your wardrobe, not buying fast fashion, which can then be easily thrown out and go into landfill,” as seems to be the case with the younger generation. If you have a loved jacket that you have had for 40 years, wear it, wear your pair of earrings that you have always adored, or your shoes, or your boots.” Sue has collected and saved much of her designer wardrobe of clothes, shoes and accessories since the 70’s!

There are members in the For the Love of Fashion class that really love fashion. We have classes where we “show and tell.” One brought in a negligee that she wore for her honeymoon, in the 50’s, it was beautiful.”

Maree Moscato and Gillian Kemp

Your other interests? “My two-year-old toy poodle Lacy keeps me very busy. Sue is single, and has enjoyed developing her prestigious career, without regrets. Sue’s current major interest, on a global level, relates to her active involvement with her mother’s Scottish clan… Clan Menzies. Sue is a member of their global council. Five years ago, she developed their website, she runs their social media content, and also makes videos and documentaries for the Clan Menzies Society. Sue travels to Scotland to attend the yearly clan gathering at Castle Menzies in the Scottish Highlands.

”It is a worldwide society, there is a lot of interest these days in all the different clans. It’s huge in my life and it’s very important.” Sue has just recently been appointed the Australian Representative, “which means, I suppose that I will be the official Australian representative for the Menzies Clan Chief.” Sue’s interest developed after inheriting many old family photographs and keepsakes passed down through the generations. She decided to delve into the genealogy of her family, “my roots, putting my family tree together.” Sue had the skills to contribute meaningfully bringing the Society into the digital age.

Pursuant to her “showbiz” childhood, Sue readily acknowledges that she enjoys ”being in the spotlight sometimes!” as it incorporates her love of people, travel, photography and also doing research. “I love travelling, learning new things, and meeting people.” Sue has a passion for visiting major fashion exhibitions … ‘Christian Dior’ in Paris, ‘Mary Quant’ in London, ‘Alexander McQueen’ in Melbourne, this year ‘Crown to Couture’ at Kensington Palace and ‘Tartan’ at the V&A in Dundee. She will also spend a week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “So much to see!”

Closer to home in St Kilda, Sue has become very involved with her street community. “We have a great community, just a little one-way street. It is fabulous.” She loves gardening and is proud of her roses. She also loves attending the U3A “Play Reading” group. “It’s like coming full circle!”

Sue has led a purposeful and vibrant career in the artistic fields of photography, hair and makeup. She has acquired high level skills, which members at U3APP are able to enjoy and benefit from. Sue’s enjoyment of coordinating all things “fashion” brings out style qualities in others.

“The group has a lot of enthusiasm and gains enjoyment from watching the documentaries, it is changing the way we look at ourselves and learning maybe not to accept the norms that perhaps as you get older, you struggle with a bit.”

Felicity May interviewed Sue Barnes

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