Posts Tagged ‘Australian photojournalist

03
Oct
21

Text/Exhibition: ‘Mervyn Bishop: Australian Photojournalist’ at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Acton, Canberra ACT

Exhibition dates: 5th March – 4th October 2021

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 40.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

In our sight, in our mind

Can you imagine, please, being the first person to step foot on the moon. Or the first person to discover radium. Now imagine being the first Indigenous Australian photojournalist, for the very first time taking photographs of your culture from the inside, photographs that picture the ongoing suffering of Indigenous people but also, as importantly, their strength and joy. Such was the calling of that legend of Australian photography, Mervyn Bishop.

Bishop was the first in a long line of Indigenous photographers who unearth, investigate, picture and honour their community, although interestingly none of the later photographers are photojournalists. Artists such as Tracey Moffatt, Michael Riley, Ricky Maynard, Lisa Bellear, R e a (rea saunders), Michael Cook, Brook Andrew, Bindi Cole and Christian Thompson) follow in his footsteps. Indeed in this posting, there is a photograph by Bishop presumably of the father of the photographer Ricky Maynard, Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania (1975, below), followed by a photograph by Maynard himself of muttonbirding on Dog Island from his series Portrait of a Distant Land. The songlines of place and ancestors are strong in Aboriginal culture, and “show the connectedness between places and the Creation events and ceremonies associated with those places. People born in that country are forever tied to the creation history of their birthplace and have custodial obligations to that place.”

The stories Bishop shares through his images are different from the colonial ones of yesteryear because they come from within the spirit and soul of the communities he is photographing. Less than 20 years before Bishop’s first photographs things were very different. The Australian journalist and writer Stan Grant observes that, “…there are images in our history, of Aboriginal people in chains. Aboriginal people tied together, with armed police standing either side of them.” In an article on The Guardian website we learn that “Neck chains were still being used on Aboriginal people in Western Australia in 1958. Witnesses at Halls Creek in the Kimberley reported seeing Aboriginal prisoners chained to a veranda post of the police station for weeks at a time… At peak periods, from the 1880s to the 1940s, hundreds of Aboriginal people were chained for alleged cattle theft, and marched out of their country, some for up to 400km. Each neck piece weighed 2.4kg.”1 Even in Dawn – A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of N.S.W. created by the New South Wales Aboriginal Welfare Board and aimed at Aboriginal Australians (running monthly from January 1952 until December 1968) – in which there was an article in February 1965 on a young Mervyn Bishop training to become a photographer (see below) – the forces of colonial assimilation were hard at work, as can be seen on the back cover of the Dawn October 1965 issue, where Leslie Ryan makes her debut at a “Deb” Ball for kindergarten children, where she “seems to be getting a better deal out of life now that (s)he has love and attention.” Now that she has love and attention. Just let that sink in. Today, the dripping irony and sadness of this photograph in relation to what is now known as “The Stolen Generation”2 is apparent, the two young children taken from their families, taken from their culture, dressed to the nines in formal Western attire at such a young age. Remember, this is less than 60 years ago.

As much as Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) was a working photographer making “Documents pour artistes,” declaring his modest ambition to create images for other artists to use as source material, so Bishop was a working photographer who created “Documents for people” at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra from 1974 onwards, where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. As Mervyn himself says, “Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public.” There it is in a nutshell… an intimate understanding of the the art and technique of photography (the construction the image plane, lighting, point of view, scale, printing, etc… ) and the stories he wanted to tell. And he tells those stories straight down the line, with no bullshit. When asked in an audio recording in this posting about why his award winning photograph Life and death dash (1971, below) was misunderstood, he says “it has nothing to do with blackfellas, put it that way… people say it’s a nun running away with a little black kid, the Stolen Generation – nothing to do with it! Not a bloody thing! … people interpret their own way. Who would know that I was black? People still go on about it but people are talking through their … whatever… so, you don’t know what your talking about.” There you have it.

Like his personality, Bishop’s wonderful photographs are strong and direct, informed and understanding of the work of Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. In Girl pours tea, Burnt Bridge (1988, above), an Aboriginal mother sits at a kitchen table in a corrugated iron shack and pours tea from a large battered teapot into enamel mugs, one for herself and one presumably for the photographer. Light pours through a hole in the roof. The table is covered in a floral probably plastic table cloth. There are plastic flowers set upon it. The chairs are vinyl. Behind her is an old kitchen unit from the 1950s with a wire screen at eye level, used to keep flies out. To the right are boxes and detritus while to the left a plastic bucket sits on the battered sink. Her child plays next to her oblivious of the camera flash while she stares directly at the camera. Much as Lange’s Migrant Mother, this women possesses her own inner dignity which Bishop captures so well: an unexpected intimacy with the subject in which we confront uncomfortable truths.

Other photographs, such as Children playing in river, Mumeka (1975, below) capture the pure joy of Aboriginal life, or the resoluteness of a people having to survive the trauma of cultures and societies and their complex histories (Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour 1988, below). But let us be clear… this is not a vanishing race, nor an assimilated race but a proud, creative and intelligent race now picturing its own history and future. As Ricky Maynard states, “The contest remains over who will image and own this history. We must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose, as well as the tools used for the telling of this.” Bishop was at the very beginning of this imaging and ownership of Aboriginal history, not by colonial photographers of the past, but from within the community itself, in the present. His photographs are about speaking up about injustice and making sure that Indigenous perspectives were heard and not railroaded by non-indigenous people – Bishop was at the beginning of this – and about how the image speaks truth to power (a non-violent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the received wisdom or propaganda of governments they regard as oppressive, authoritarian or an ideocracy),

Towards the end of the documentary “The Bowraville Murders”, Stan Grant observes that Aboriginal people are kicked every day… [and this remains] out of sight, out of mind. He reminds us that between 1991 and 2021 there have been more than 470 Aboriginal deaths in custody… and not a single conviction. Out of sight, out of mind. Indeed, “fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.”3 And this is what we all do. That is, until a photographer and artist like Mervyn Bishop comes along and reminds us through his photographs of the integrity, vitality and presence of Aboriginal people, spirit that stretches back thousands of years – despite our capacity to forget the trauma that Indigenous Australians have endured. This is the purpose of Bishop’s photographs … they bring to the forefront of our knowledge and imagination an understanding of the history and future of Aboriginal people. They remain, in our sight, in our mind.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

    1. Chris Owen. “How Western Australia’s ‘unofficial’ use of neck chains on Indigenous people lasted 80 years,” on The Guardian website Sun 7 March 2201 [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.
    2. The Stolen Generations refers to a period in Australia’s history where Aboriginal children were removed from their families through government policies. This happened from the mid-1800s to the 1970s.In the 1860s, Victoria became the first state to pass laws authorising Aboriginal children to be removed from their parents. Similar policies were later adopted by other states and territories – and by the federal government when it was established in the 1900s. For about a century, thousands of Aboriginal children were systematically taken from their families, communities and culture, many never to be returned. These children are known as the Stolen Generations survivors, or Stolen Children.These children were taken by the police; from their homes; on their way to or from school. They were placed in over 480 institutions, adopted or fostered by non-Indigenous people and often subjected to abuse. The children were denied all access to their culture, they were not allowed to speak their language and they were punished if they did. The impacts of this are still being felt today.There are currently more than 17,000 Stolen Generations survivors in Australia. Over one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are their descendants. In Western Australia almost half of the population have Stolen Generation links.Anonymous. “Who are the Stolen Generations?” on the Healing Foundation website [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.
    3. Wade Davis. “The Unraveling of America,” on the Rolling Stone website August 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 03/10/2021.

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Many thankx to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The contest remains over who will image and own this history. We must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose, as well as the tools used for the telling of this.”

.
Ricky Maynard, 2007

 

“Australia in many ways is a crime scene. And the first crime is Captain Cook ordering his men to shoot at Aboriginal people. That’s the shot that we still hear all around Australia. And of course, there are images in our history, of Aboriginal people in chains. Aboriginal people tied together, with armed police standing either side of them. This is what has happened in our country, so it isn’t a great step to go from frontier attitudes of violence to deaths of three children in Bowraville. Because for us, it’s the same thing. It’s a killing that never stops.”

.
Stan Grant quoted in the documentary “The Bowraville Murders” directed by Allan Clarke on SBS on Demand, Australia, 2021

 

 

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia will celebrates Mervyn Bishop, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, with a new exhibition 5 March – 4 October 2021.

Mr Bishop’s images of culture, politics and people have significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history. This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, the artist’s private archive, and enriched by sound and moving image from the NFSA.

Mervyn Bishop features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community. Spanning the past 60 years, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work.

 

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his hometown of Brewarrina, venturing to Sydney, where he successfully applied for a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald. He became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer and in 1971 won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph Life and Death Dash, 1971.

Bishop went on to work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974 where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This included his iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner.

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]
Nd

 

Indigenous Australians in neck chains

 

Indigenous Australians in neck chains. Historical records say they had been chained after killing an animal. Neck chains were used by police across Western Australia from the 1880s to the late 1950s. Photograph: State Library of Western Australia

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975, printed 1999

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975, printed 1999
Type R3 photograph
30.5 x 30.5cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop/ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill Walk-Off) led by Vincent Lingiari

On 23 August 1966 200 Gurindji stockmen, domestic workers and their families walked off Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory and refused to keep working for the station owners. The disagreement over wages and land ownership lasted for seven years. In 1974 some of the Gurindji people’s homelands were returned to them. This influenced the first legislation, passed in 1976, that allowed Aboriginal people to claim land title. In September 2020 the Gurindji claim for native title to Wave Hill station was granted, 54 years after the walk-off that helped to spark Australia’s Indigenous land rights movement.

 

Why did the Gurindji people strike?

In the 1960s Wave Hill station was owned by an international company called Vestey Brothers. Vestey Brothers paid the Gurindji people working on the station very low wages. On 23 August 1966 the Gurindji people stopped working and walked off Wave Hill station in protest. They were led by elder Vincent Lingiari.

In 1967 the Gurindji set up a camp at Daguragu (also known as Wattie Creek). It soon became clear that the Gurindji did not simply want fair wages. More importantly they wanted the government to return some of their land. For seven years the Gurindji stayed at Daguragu and sent letters and petitions to the Northern Territory Government and the Australian Government asking that their land be returned to them.

How was the dispute resolved?

In 1972 the Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam came to power. The Whitlam government was interested in establishing Aboriginal land rights. Around the same time, Vestey Brothers finally agreed to hand over a small section of Wave Hill station around Daguragu to the Gurindji people.

In 1975 Prime Minister Whitlam visited Daguragu and in a ceremony he returned the land to the Gurindji people. Whitlam famously poured a handful of soil through Vincent Lingiari’s hand and said, ‘Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people’. …

The Gurindji strike helped to make the Australian public aware of Aboriginal land ownership claims. It also influenced the first legislation in Australia that allowed Aboriginal people to apply for ownership of their traditional lands, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

 

“I bin thinkin’ this bin Gurindji country. We bin here longa time before them Vestey mob.”

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Vincent Lingiari, 1966

 

“We originally took the picture under the shade of a bough shed and it didn’t have a nice look about it.”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

What’s the backstory to your famous land rights photograph?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

 

An historic handful of dirt: Whitlam and the legacy of the Wave Hill Walk-Off

On the prime ministerial jet that morning, public servant turned Aboriginal affairs adviser H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs urged Whitlam to keep his speech short and invest the day with a sense of ceremony.

Coombs recounted a story told by anthropologist Bill Stanner: how Wurundjeri elders had formalised their people’s 1835 land treaty with encroaching settlers at Port Phillip by placing soil into the hand of explorer John Batman. Hearing Coombs’ suggestion that the PM might reverse the gesture with Lingiari, Whitlam revised his performance plan for Daguragu on the spot.

When it came to his turn to speak, Whitlam congratulated the Gurindji and their supporters on their victory after a nine-year “fight for justice”. Promising that the Australian government would “help you in your plans to use this land fruitfully”, his speech concluded with the words:

Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people, and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever.

.
In finishing, Whitlam handed Lingiari the new deeds to the Gurindji’s land, now officially dubbed NT Pastoral Lease 805. Then, to the joy of assembled photographers, he stooped down, grabbed a handful of red earth, and poured it into Lingiari’s open palm. …

Lingiari – who according to one reporter was struck with a case of nerves – responded to Whitlam and the crowd in his own language:

The important white men are giving us this land ceremonially… It belonged to the whites, but today it is in the hands of us Aboriginals all around here. Let us live happily as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… They will give us cattle, they will give us horses, and we will be happy… These important white men have come here to our ceremonial ground and they are welcome…

You (Gurindji) must keep this land safe for yourselves, it does not belong to any different Welfare man. They took our country away from us, now they have bought it back ceremonially.

.
After Whitlam gave the old man even more dirt for the benefit of the press, photographer Mervyn Bishop’s images of the “handover” became some of the most recognised in Australian political history. The power of the photos rested in the symbolism of Whitlam’s gesture, made on behalf of millions concerned by Aboriginal dispossession.

The handover implicitly acknowledged the moral rightfuness of the Gurindji’s stand, and the historical injustices done to them by the Europeans on their country. It was by dint of the Gurindji’s hard slog at Wattie Creek that they had successfully brought all this to the nation’s attention. The handover day was the old Gurindji men’s finest hour, and their victory.

Charlie Ward. “An historic handful of dirt: Whitlam and the legacy of the Wave Hill Walk-Off,” on The Conversation website August 21, 2016 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

 

 

Mervyn Bishop: pioneer, artist, and source of inspiration

Hear from National Film and Sound Archive of Australia curator Tara Marynowsky as she describes the ‘insider’s knowledge’ visitors to the Mervyn Bishop exhibition will receive, and how his story brings together those of the famous faces he captured.

 

 

In this excerpt from ABC series art+soul curator Hetti Perkins talks with artist photographer Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Canberra
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA 1 - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Canberra
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition entrance

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition entrance
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA, featuring images and footage of boxer Lionel Rose. See Bishop’s photograph Lionel Rose at his press conference (1968, below)
Photographs by Grace Costa

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lionel Rose at his press conference' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lionel Rose at his press conference
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

Mervyn Bishop cameras

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing some of his cameras
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop with camera

 

Mervyn Bishop with camera
Courtesy NFSA

 

 

Teenage Mervyn had already in a sense begun his career in the mid 1950s. He started to take documentary family snaps on his mother’s Kodak 620, followed by a more expensive fifteen pound Japanese 35mm of his own in 1957. He was encouraged by with the help of a Church of England Bush Brother [priest] Brother Richard and Vic King a local photographer who had a dark room that Merv frequented. He then began to hold backyard slide nights of his family and neighbourhood snaps.

By the beginning of the 1960s the search for the exotic authentic had shifted from the south-east to northern Australia. Although Australian painters such as Russell Drysdale and Arthur Boyd had created images from their trips to western NSW post WWII, photographer Axel Poignant and US Life magazine photographer Fritz Gorro both visited Arnhem Land in the 1950s to document and ‘compose’ their subject matter. …

‘Merv Bishop Graduates from Photographers’ Course’, Dawn magazine’s headline said. After leaving Dubbo High in 1962 he spent a year as a clerk with the ABC before starting as a cadet photographer at the Sydney Morning Herald in 1963, (the first Aboriginal photographer ever hired by the paper) and entered the first photographic course at the Sydney Technical College, Broadway Sydney, graduating in 1966, Next year was the important year of the referendum concerning Aboriginal people and ‘the state’…

Djon Mundine. “Brewarrina Boy,” on the Australian Museum website 12/07/2021 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

Mervyn Bishop media call 4 March 2021 - Curator Coby Edgar and Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop media call 4 March 2021 – Curator Coby Edgar and Mervyn Bishop
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop in a recreation of his darkroom at the exhibition media call

 

Mervyn Bishop in a recreation of his darkroom at the exhibition media call
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA - Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop at NFSA
Photo by Madeleine Stevens, Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing at left, Pool game, Burnt Bridge (1988, below); at second left, Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads (1974, below); at centre Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge (1988, below); and at right, Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour (1988, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pool game, Burnt Bridge' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pool game, Burnt Bridge
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Save the children pre-school, Nambucca Heads
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

“I don’t think there were even Indigenous journos in those days. As my friend said: ‘You were the lone ranger'”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

How diverse was your photographic subject matter?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge' 1988, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Woman standing near electric power cord in water, Burnt Bridge
1988, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
40.0 x 30.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour' 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Couple on veranda, Coffs Harbour
1988
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing at middle, Elders, Amata (1977, below); and at right, ‘Bob’s catch’ Shoalhaven Heads (1974, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Elders, Amata' 1977, printed 1991

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Elders, Amata
1977, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
29.9 x 40.5cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) ''Bob's catch' Shoalhaven Heads' 1974, printed 1991

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
‘Bob’s catch’ Shoalhaven Heads
1974, printed 1991
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop exhibition at the NFSA showing in the bottom photograph, Life and death dash (1971, below)
Courtesy NFSA

 

 

“People say it’s about the stolen generations, but it’s got nothing to do with that – not a bloody thing.”

.
Mervyn Bishop

 

 

Why is ‘Life-and-death dash’ misunderstood?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Life and death dash' 1971

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Life and death dash
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
40.4 x 30.1cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Far West Children's health clinic, Manly' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Far West Children’s health clinic, Manly
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Alan Judd, ABC trainee radio announcer, Sydney' 1968

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Alan Judd, ABC trainee radio announcer, Sydney
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lois O'Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lois O’Donoghue CBA, AM, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
30 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Lowitja Lois O’Donoghue Smart, AC, CBE, DSG (born Lois O’Donoghue; 1 August 1932) is an Aboriginal Australian retired public administrator. In 1990-1996 she was the inaugural chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (dismantled in 2004). She is patron of the Lowitja Institute, a research institute for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (/ˈʊdɡəruː ˈnuːnəkəl/ UUD-gə-roo NOO-nə-kəl; born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, later Kath Walker (3 November 1920 – 16 September 1993) was an Aboriginal Australian political activist, artist and educator, who campaigned for Aboriginal rights. Noonuccal was best known for her poetry, and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Photography cadets with model, Sydney Morning Herald' 1967

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Photography cadets with model, Sydney Morning Herald
1967
Gelatin silver photograph
29.8 x 40.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina' 1966

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
30 x 40cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Roslyn Watson' 1973

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Roslyn Watson
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
40 x 30cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children playing in river, Mumeka' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children playing in river, Mumeka
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 29.9cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children playing in river, Mumeka' 1975 (detail)

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children playing in river, Mumeka (detail)
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
30.1 x 29.9cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled. 2 Boys posing, Tony Mundine's gym, Redfern' Nd

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled. 2 Boys posing, Tony Mundine’s gym, Redfern
Nd
35mm black and white slide
2.5 x 3.5cm
Mervyn Bishop Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'H Thomas, C Dixon, K Smith ACT' 1976

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
H Thomas, C Dixon, K Smith ACT
1976
35mm colour slide
2.5 x 3.5cm
Mervyn Bishop Archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Murray Island' 1977

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Murray Island
1977
35mm colour slide
3.5 x 2.5cm
Mervyn Bishop archive, Art Gallery of New South Wales Archive
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Exhibition dedicated to photographer Mervyn Bishop opens in Canberra

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) to showcase work of award-winning artist from 5 March – 1 August 2021.

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is celebrating Mervyn Bishop, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, with a new exhibition opening in Canberra tomorrow Friday 5 March. Mr Bishop himself will present a floor talk on opening day, at 12pm.

Mr Bishop’s images of culture, politics and people have significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history. This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) collection, the artist’s private archive, and enriched by sound and moving image from the NFSA.

Mervyn Bishop features iconic photographs that derive from his career as a photojournalist, alongside personal images of family and friends and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community. Spanning the past 60 years, the exhibition provides a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work.

NFSA Acting CEO Nancy Eyers said: ‘We are pleased to bring the work of Mervyn Bishop to Canberra and share his story with our audiences. Mr Bishop’s photographs present us with a wonderful combination of history, artistic excellence, and self-representation. In addition to the striking prints from the AGNSW, the NFSA’s audiovisual collection will bring a new dimension to the exhibition.’

‘This comprehensive exhibition was developed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), but there are new additions from the NFSA collection for Canberra audiences. It’s been fantastic working with them; there are not many exhibitions that combine photography with mixed media, and I think visitors will be amazed by this combination.’

AGNSW Curator Coby Edgar added: ‘Working with Mervyn Bishop and the NFSA to build this show has been a truly collaborative process with the aim to present Australia through Mervyn’s eyes. He has captured many of our country’s most pivotal moments politically and socially, and this exhibition is a celebration of his life and practice and the Australian peoples and cultures that he has documented.’

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his hometown of Brewarrina, venturing to Sydney, where he successfully applied for a cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald. He became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer and in 1971 won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph Life and Death Dash 1971. Bishop went on to work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974 where he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This included his iconic image from 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. Bishop’s childhood, his life experiences and career will be explored by former Reuters journalist Tim Dobbyn in an upcoming biography tentatively titled A Handful of Sand.

Mervyn Bishop said: ‘Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public.’

An AGNSW touring exhibition, presented in collaboration with NFSA.

 

About Mervyn Bishop

Born and raised in Brewarrina, New South Wales, Mervyn Bishop was encouraged by his mother to take his first photograph. After witnessing the ‘magic’ of the developing process, he became passionate about photography. In 1963 he successfully applied for a four-year cadetship at The Sydney Morning Herald and completed a Photography Certificate Course at Sydney Technical College during these years. Bishop continued to work for The Sydney Morning Herald and was Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer. In 1971 he won the News Photographer of the Year Award with his front-page photograph, Life and Death Dash, 1971.

Bishop started work at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra in 1974, in the early years of an important era in Indigenous self-determination. Here he covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, including the historical moment in 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. This image – representing the Australian government’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights – became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography. In 1989 Bishop received his Associate Diploma in Adult Education at Sydney College of Advanced Education and went on to teach photography at Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe, Sydney and the Eora Centre TAFE (Technical and Further Education) in Redfern, Sydney.

Bishop’s diverse career, combining journalistic and art photography, was celebrated in 1991 in his solo exhibition and accompanying monograph, ‘In Dreams: Mervyn Bishop Thirty Years of Photography 1960-1990’. This important exhibition was curated by Tracey Moffatt and opened at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, before touring nationally and internationally. The timely and intimate photographs celebrate Bishop’s contribution to Australian art and photojournalism. In 2000, Bishop was presented with the Red Ochre Award from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council, in recognition of his pioneering work and ongoing influence.

Biography by Jonathan Jones, first published in ‘Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014.

 

Mervyn Bishop’s journey to be one of Australia’s best-known photographers is paved with triumphs, setbacks and tragedy. Bishop left Canberra in 1979 to return to The Sydney Morning Herald in a career choice that ended with his departure in 1986. While looking for work he was befriended by people from the Sydney arts scene, leading to his first solo exhibition in 1991, the In Dreams show. But this victory is forever linked to the death of his wife Elizabeth on the same day as the exhibition’s opening. His later work is dominated by portraiture that demonstrates his ability to put people at ease and a sympathetic appreciation for the human condition.

Synopsis from the upcoming biography A Handful of Sand, by author Tim Dobbyn.

Press release from the NFSA

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Fisherman Charlie Ardler, Wreck Bay' 1975, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Fisherman Charlie Ardler, Wreck Bay
1975, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Womenfolk, Bowraville' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Womenfolk, Bowraville
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 30.4cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

What is your legacy? And whose work do you admire?

 

 

Conversation between Guardian Australia picture editor Jonny Weeks and the photographer Mervyn Bishop in the article by Jonny Weeks and Miles Martignoni. “Great Australian photographs: Mervyn Bishop’s symbolic shot – an audio essay,” on the Guardian Australia website Mon 5 Jun 2017 [Online] Cited 14/9/2021.

 

 

Additional images not in exhibition

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Aborigine Trains as News Photographer," 'Dawn' magazine, February 1965

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Aborigine Trains as News Photographer," 'Dawn' magazine, February 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Aborigine Trains as News Photographer
Dawn magazine, February 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) "Your Career – Photography," 'Dawn' magazine, October 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Your Career – Photography
Dawn magazine, October 1965

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher) Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975) "Untitled [Deb Ball]" Dawn magazine, October 1965 back cover

 

Aboriginal Protection Board (1952-1969) (publisher)
Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (1970-1975)
Untitled [Deb Ball]
Dawn magazine, October 1965 back cover

 

 

Dawn – A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of N.S.W.

Dawn was an Australian magazine created by the New South Wales Aboriginal Welfare Board and aimed at Aboriginal Australians. It ran monthly from January 1952 until December 1968. Two issues were published in 1969 before the disbanding of the Aboriginal Welfare Board led to the publication ceasing. The magazine was relaunched in April 1970 under the title New Dawn, published by the New South Wales Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare. It continued to be produced on a monthly basis; production slowed in 1974 and a final issue was published in July 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal children, cousin Helen Bishop, Gibbs children, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1965, printed 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal children, cousin Helen Bishop, Gibbs children, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1965, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bishop Town picnic, Brewarrina' 1966, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Bishop Town picnic, Brewarrina
1966, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lil and Larry Cargill at the rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1967, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Lil and Larry Cargill at the rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1967, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'A woman drinks a pint of beer in a Glebe pub on the eve of its closing' 1967

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
A woman drinks a pint of beer in a Glebe pub on the eve of its closing
1967
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Patrons drinking at a pub on the eve of its closure, Glebe, New South Wales' 1967, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Patrons drinking at a pub on the eve of its closure, Glebe, New South Wales
1967, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

''YES' for Aborigines pamphlet' 1967

 

‘YES’ for Aborigines pamphlet
1967
Donated by Janelle Marshall, the child pictured on the pamphlet
National Museum of Australia

 

 

It is 1967.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are citizens, can vote and are as entitled to government pensions as all other Australians.

But they are not formally counted in census returns, and the Australian Government does not have the power to make laws for their benefit.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are subject to individual state controls and laws, rather than uniform national ones, and in several cases the states are not legislating for the benefit of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inhabitants.

To change this situation there needs to be a change to the Constitution, by a referendum, a national vote.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'The Murai tree at the Rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales' 1969, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
The Murai tree at the Rocks, Brewarrina, New South Wales
1969, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.3 x 30.3cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Guests at Lorraine Taylor's wedding at Terrigal, New South Wales' 1973, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Guests at Lorraine Taylor’s wedding at Terrigal, New South Wales
1973, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Warning sign 30 kilometres from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Warning sign 30 kilometres from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

“Do not take picture with camer. If someone take it? The law said, please, when coming in here, take only the park painting, no money, but someone else body is ten dollars and countrie is eleven dollars. This is going all over the world to white men and blacks.”

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'School bus, Yarrabah' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
School bus, Yarrabah
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'The bus stop, Yalambie Reserve, Mt Isa' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
The bus stop, Yalambie Reserve, Mt Isa
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Sawmill workers, Cherbourg' 1974

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Sawmill workers, Cherbourg
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Pay day, Hooker Creek, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27.3 x 40.2cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal man beside humpy, Yuendumu, Northern Territory' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal man beside humpy, Yuendumu, Northern Territory
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Woman attend home management course at Yuendumu' 1974, printed 2008

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Woman attend home management course at Yuendumu
1974, printed 2008
Gelatin silver print
30.0 x 40.0cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

 

Yuendumu is a town in the Northern Territory of Australia, 293 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs on the Tanami Road, within the Central Desert Region local government area. It ranks as one of the larger remote communities in central Australia, and has a thriving community of Aboriginal artists.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Melba Saunders surrounded by stuffed koalas at an Aboriginal craft shop, Brisbane' 1974, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Melba Saunders surrounded by stuffed koalas at an Aboriginal craft shop, Brisbane
1974, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40.2 x 27cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'John Nykamula treating patient Gurrumuru Mala, Arnhemland, Northern Territory' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
John Nykamula treating patient Gurrumuru Mala, Arnhemland, Northern Territory
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40.2 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bishop and Gurindji men outside the Murramulla Social Club' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Bishop and Gurindji men outside the Murramulla Social Club
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'An Aboriginal school teacher and two children, Maningrida community, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
An Aboriginal school teacher and two children, Maningrida community, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 29.8cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania' 1975, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Eric Maynard cleaning a mutton bird, Great Dog Island, Tasmania
1975, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30.2 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953; Trawlwoolway) 'Coming Home' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australian, b. 1953; Trawlwoolway)
Coming Home
2005
From the series Portrait of a Distant Land
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 52.0cm
© Ricky Maynard

 

 

Shearwaters, a type of muttonbird, also called yolla or moonbird, are harvested for food (the meat tastes like mutton), feathers for mattress fill, and the omega-3 rich oil, which is squeezed out of the birds’ guts, for medicinal use. Harvesting is a confronting job to outsiders: chicks are pulled from their burrows and their necks are quickly snapped. …

Indigenous people have been catching muttonbirds for thousands of years. “Millennia,” Maynard emphasises. “It’s just evolved. Our old fellas used to go to the rookeries, and get these birds when they were there because they were a great food source; a seasonal tucker.”

Dog Island, where the muttonbirds are harvested in Maynard’s play, is named for Great Dog or Big Dog Island: a 354-hectare granite isle filled with tussock grassland, off the south coast of Flinders Island in Bass Strait, where commercial birding operations have existed for more than 200 years. Maynard’s father didn’t take him muttonbirding on Big Dog, his family’s “spiritual home”, until he was 15, because birding season, which runs late March through late April, clashed with the school term. Maynard, though, takes his eight-year-old son each year.

Maynard is a Trawlwoolway man and descendant of Mannalargenna, a leader of the north-east Tasmanian Indigenous peoples, who led resistance against British soldiers in the early 19th century.

In 1995 the Tasmanian government handed back several sites, including Great Dog and Babel islands, to Indigenous people in an acknowledgement of Aboriginal dispossession.

Steve Dow. “‘I wanted something to celebrate’: Indigenous playwright tackles tradition in ‘The Season’,” on The Guardian website Wed 14 Dec 2016 [Online] Cited 14/09/2021

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Three Aboriginal women holding cakes, Mungundi, New South Wales' 1976, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Three Aboriginal women holding cakes, Mungundi, New South Wales
1976, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Charles Perkins shaking hands with members of the National Aboriginal Congress, Canberra' 1978, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Charles Perkins shaking hands with members of the National Aboriginal Congress, Canberra
1978, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
30 x 30cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

Charles Perkins (Australian, 1936-2000; Arrernte; Kalkadoon)

Charles Nelson Perkins AO, commonly known as Charlie Perkins (16 June 1936 – 19 October 2000), was an Australian Aboriginal activist, soccer player and administrator. He was the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate tertiary education, and is known for his instigation and organisation of the 1965 Freedom Ride and his key role in advocating for a “yes” vote in the Australian referendum, 1967 (Aboriginals). He had a long career as a public servant.

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled (Bellbrook NSW, man leaning on fence)' 4 May 1988

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled (Bellbrook NSW, man leaning on fence)
4 May 1988
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Mervyn Bishop
Photo: AGNSW

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Children floating on board, Yirrkala, Northern Territory' 1989, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Children floating on board, Yirrkala, Northern Territory
1989, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
27 x 40cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945) 'Aboriginal Australian Gerard Rice at the Rally, Sydney' 1989, reproduction 2014

 

Mervyn Bishop (Australian, b. 1945)
Aboriginal Australian Gerard Rice at the Rally, Sydney
1989, reproduction 2014
Gelatin silver print
40 x 27cm
National Library of Australia
© Mervyn Bishop

 

 

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT 2601

Opening hours:
Daily 10am to 4pm

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia website

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13
Feb
16

Review: ‘Trent Parke: The camera is god’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2015 – 21st February 2016

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (Australian, b. 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (installation view)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Ghost in the machine

This is a disappointing first solo exhibition in Victoria by internationally renowned Australian photojournalist Trent Parke, the main body of the exhibition made up of his internationally celebrated series, consisting of anonymous portraits taken on the streets of Adelaide. Seriously, who writes this stuff? Sure, Parke is Australia’s only member of the Magnum photo agency but I have been commenting on photography for many years now, and have never heard of this series before, neither locally and definitely not internationally.

From the ironic title, The camera is god, critiquing the all seeing eye of the camera, to the work itself – a large grid of black and white digital prints from film negatives, the images taken when Parke, “fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed.” Parke then extracted, “individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects” – the series feels like a university photography course exercise into the study of motion. While the installation works better from a distance, the gridded layout forming a holistic whole of ambiguous individuals, the closer you get the more the integrity of the images naturally falls apart with golf ball sized grain. Unfortunately, not all the grain is from the film negative. Some of it is digital noise, and the combination of film grain and digital pixellation does not sit well with the images. If you are going to shoot analogue film, why then destroy its characteristics by printing digitally, and introducing an entirely different element into the equation?

Photographs of anonymous people in the city have a long presence in the history of photography. They disavow what is known as the ‘civil contract of photography’1 that is, a relation between formally equal parties (the photographer and the sitter), whose equality lies in their shared participation in the act of being photographed, in what Ariella Azoulay terms, the community of ‘the governed’.2 As Daniel Palmer and Jessica Whyte note, “Photography is one of the ways in which we are able to establish a distance from power and observe its actions from a position that is not already marked as one of subjection.”3 In other words, the photographer can photograph from a position of freedom and not of surveillance and control (by state power). Of course, this does not negate the power of the photographer to choose what to photograph, who to make subjective to their whim and control… with or without permission (to photograph).

Early examples in this genre are works by Paul Strand taken between 1915-17, close-up portraits of anonymous urban subjects. Next we have portraits of anonymous New York subway commuters taken by Walker Evans with a hidden camera between 1938-41 (see below). Other photographers include Harry Callahan and his Chicago series of 1950 and, in Australia, Bill Henson’s Untitled 1980/82 series of crowds, taken with a telephoto lens to flatten the pictorial plane.

Commenting on the work of Walker Evans, the author Max Kozloff observes in his highly recommended book, The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900,

“From around 1938 to 1941 this ‘penitent spy and apologetic voyeur’, as he later styled himself, photographed passengers with a hidden camera, a cable release trailing down his coat sleeve to his itchy hand. This had been a devious, unsavoury thing to do, and he knew it; but the result was spectacular in its disclosure of the miscellaneous, anonymous, quotidian texture of metropolitan life, solemn or comic by turns. It was made up of figures whose collective presence he retroactively implied by experimentally sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids. Evans did not see what his camera saw, and his subjects were oblivious to his design.”4

Sound familiar? sequencing his pictures, cropped and in grids…

The key here is an annunciation, a spiritual exposition, of the quotidian texture of metropolitan life through the photography of anonymous human beings. Human beings who have not given their permission to be photographed but who are captured anyway in the passions of life, the angst of existence, in a slightly devious way. Let’s get this straight: this series is not about the camera being god, it is about the photographer actively choosing to press the shutter release of the camera, the photographer choosing what to crop out of the image, about the photographer choosing what to print and how to arrange and sequence the work. It is about the photographer as (an absent) god … for he neither looks through the lens of the camera, nor is there at the exhibition. But he is an omnipresent, omni-prescient force, forever surveilling the field of view, dominating the subject and presenting his choice. The photograph is framed by the photographer’s (absent, but controlling) eye. It is about his ego, not the cameras, as to what is represented. Commenting on his own work, Walker Evans observes,

“A distinct point, though, is made in the lifting of these objects from their original settings. The point is that this lifting, is, in the raw, exactly what the photographer is doing with his machine, the camera, anyway, always. The photographer, the artist, “takes” a picture: symbolically he lifts an object or a combination of objects, and in so doing he makes a claim for that object or that composition, and a claim for his act of seeing in the first place. The claim is that he has rendered his object in some way transcendent, and that in each instance his vision has penetrating validity”5

.
Further, as Annete Kuhn notes, the eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is:

“Photographs are coded, but usually so as to appear uncoded. The truth/authenticity potential of photography is tied in with the idea that seeing is believing. Photography draws on an ideology of the visible as evidence. The eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is: we look at a photograph and see a slice of the world. To complete the circuit of recording, visibility and truth set up by the photograph, there has to be someone looking at it …”6 (My italics)

.
Caroline Blinder suggests that,

“… transcendental ethos is aligned with the camera’s ability to capture the real and the spiritual, the native and the universal simultaneously. Hence, Evans’s images of vernacular America, of regional architecture, objects, signs, and people become representative of a “moment of seeing” in which a secular vision of America is given sacred implications.

“The idea of reinserting a sacred purpose into the photographic project became part of the era’s [1930-40s] attempts to codify photography as a medium with far-reaching metaphoric, aesthetic, and cultural ramifications. In this context, the combination of a self-effacing aspect with a moment of total vision – “I am nothing; I see all” – in itself suggests a constant oscillation between positions behind and in front of a metaphorical camera; positions which, incidentally, also mimic and reflect the role of the critic vis-à-vis the subject of photography.”7

.
There is no penetrating validity to be seen here, for the series seems to have been codified (in absentia) as a form of post-human conceptualisation, undermining the 1930s attempt to codify the medium with a spiritual dimension. Unlike the photographs of Walker Evans, or Bill Henson, where I am fascinated with the object of the photographers attention (what were they thinking, where were they going, what was their life about?), in this case the object of the artist’s attention – “the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement” – does not carry me along for the journey, has not become existential, transcendent. It is not the ghost in the machine of the camera (its ability to capture things that humans cannot see) that is present, but the ghost in the machine of the human that becomes apparent in these images… that of an unresolved idea, a floating bit of code.

Personally, I found the rendered object not worth a second glance. The images did not, and will not, reveal themselves to you over weeks and years. Of much more interest was the single, whole image from which the detail is taken. If I had been surrounded by the light and energy of works such as the only complete image shown (see below) – say 15 of them in a darkened room – then I would have been excited, surprised, challenged and enlightened. Go with he source!

These images remain a promise unfulfilled. They could have been so much more “than the closed-off beings of our own mediations, of our own mirrors, our machines.”8

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Azoulay, Ariella (2008), The Civil Contract of Photography (trans. Rela Mazali and Ruvik Danieli), New York: Zone Books.
  2. Palmer, Daniel and Whyte, Jessica. “‘No Credible Photographic Interest’: Photography restrictions and surveillance in a time of terror,” in Philosophy of Photography Volume 1 Number 2, Intellect Limited 2010, p. 178.
  3. Ibid., p. 179.
  4. Kozloff, Max. The Theatre of the Face: Portrait Photography Since 1900. London: Phaidon Press, 2007, p. 149.
  5. Walker Evans quoted in Thompson, J. L. (ed.,). Walker Evans at Work. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, p. 229 in Caroline Blinder. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  6. Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, pp. 27-28.
  7. Blinder, Caroline. “”The Transparent Eyeball”: On Emerson and Walker Evans,” in Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Dec 2004. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; pg. 149, 15 pgs.
  8. Kozloff, op. cit. p. 89.

.
Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

MGA provides Victorians with their first opportunity to see a significant exhibition of work by Trent Parke, the internationally renowned Australian photojournalist. Over the past two decades Parke has brought his highly poetic sensibility to traditional documentary photography. Alongside a range of Parke’s work recently purchased for the MGA collection this exhibition features his 2013 series, The camera is god (street portrait series), which puts a metaphysical spin on street photography.

 

 

“Walker Evans once wrote a friend: “Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” Evans’ insistence on staring as the main road to learning included making pictures of subway riders with a hidden camera, but he felt so guilty about being an unobserved observer that he withheld publication for years. This compunction still dogs many photographers but seldom stops them.”

.
Goldberg, Vicki. “Voyeurism, Exposed,” on the Artnet website [Online] Cited 06/02/2016

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (Australian, b. 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (installation views)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013

 

Trent Parke (Australian, b. 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

During the late 1990s Trent Parke turned away from his career as a press photographer to concentrate on using the visual language of documentary photography to explore personal interests. Continuing to work in the manner of a photojournalist – venturing into the world with a 35mm film camera hanging from his neck – Parke’s artistic practice is a type of existential journey.

Trent Parke: the camera is god is the first solo exhibition of Parke’s work in Victoria, and provides an opportunity to appreciate the trajectory of his practice over the last 15 years.

At the heart of this exhibition is Parke’s The camera is god (street portrait series) of 2014. This internationally celebrated series consists of anonymous portraits, taken on the streets of Adelaide. To capture these images Parke fixed his camera on a tripod and set it to take multiple shots (up to 30 shots in eight-second bursts) when the pedestrian lights changed. Extracting individual portraits from these photographs of street traffic, Parke allowed motion-blur and film grain to obscure the identity of his subjects. As such, this series is not really about individuals, but about the transience of street life and the photographer’s own experience of being adrift in the world of light and movement.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passenger, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passenger, New York
1938
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 12 15/16 in. (20.48 x 32.86cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. (21.27 x 31.43cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 12 1/2 in. (21.27 x 31.75cm)

 

Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1950

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Chicago
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 12 3/4 in. (20 x 32.39cm)

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Untitled 1980/82
Gelatin silver chlorobromide print
From a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 1980/82

 

Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Untitled 1980/82
Gelatin silver chlorobromide print
From a series of 220
57.5 × 53.4cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-h-WEB

trent-parke-g-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

trent-parke-i-WEB

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

Trent Parke (born Australia 1971) 'The camera is god (street portrait series)' 2013 (detail)

 

Trent Parke (Australian, b. 1971)
The camera is god (street portrait series) (details)
2013
Pigment prints
Collection of the artist
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
Phone: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
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Sat – Sun: 10am – 4pm
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Monash Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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