Posts Tagged ‘Indigenous Australian

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.

.
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.”

.
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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08
Jul
18

Review: ‘Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861’ at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne Part 2, featuring photographs from exhibition

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 15th July 2018

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Colony: Frontier Wars (15 March – 2 September 2018) which presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day.

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.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing how some of the photographs were displayed in the case at rear.

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

” …what the generality of the white population of the Colony consist of, which is of the most debased and vilest dregs of Great Britain and Ireland… they never look on the Blacks in the light of human beings, but, would just as soon shoot them as they would a crow, or hunt them as they would a kangaroo. Indeed in some districts the dogs used to be thought good for nothing unless they could kill a Black as well as a kangaroo, and they used to teach them to do so, by giving them some of the poor Black’s blood.”

.
James Graham. ‘Overland Letter’ part of the Graham Bros collection at The University of Melbourne archives

 

The bad deeds of some leading frontier politicians, administrators and military men have been almost overlooked; many history books – even more modern online popular resources such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography – diminish, attempt to justify or overlook completely their proven excesses against this continent’s Indigenes. …

“On any occasion of seeing or falling in with the Natives, either in Bodies or Singly, they are to be called upon, by your friendly Native Guides, to surrender themselves to you as Prisoners of War. If they refuse to do so, make the least show of resistance, or attempt to run away from you, you will fire upon and compel them to surrender, breaking and destroying the Spears, Clubs and Waddies of all those you take Prisoners. Such natives as happen to be killed on such occasions, if grown up men, are to be hanged up on Trees in Conspicuous Situations, to Strike the Survivors with the greater terror.”

.
Lachlan Macquarie, fifth governor of New South Wales quoted in Paul Daley, “Heroes, Monuments and History,” in ‘Meanjin’, Autumn 2018

 

 

Terror incognita

Firstly, let me state that I am no expert in Australian colonial history, culture or photography. These are very specialised fields. But what I can do is use my eyes, my knowledge and my feelings to provide comment on this exhibition.

This magnificent exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square is a fascinating interrogation of the early history of the Australian nation, yet at the same time I found it very disturbing and sad. The exhibition more resembles a natural history exhibition than an art exhibition, a cabinet of curiosities, a Wunderkammer, were encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined are mixed with the first European art made on this continent. The exhibition is a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre, for all that has passed since before invasion of this land up until the year 1861. The installation mixes together colonial and Indigenous artefacts from within the allotted time period. There is so much to see that I have visited three times and not got to the bottom of this exhibition it is so dense. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, colonial furniture, clothing, pottery, jewellery, photography, maps, artefacts, etc… are displayed in a melange of techniques, offering a huge range of artists and media. Please see Part 1 of the posting for the installation images of the exhibition.

Some observations can be made. Generally, the paintings and drawings are of a very classical form, very tightly controlled and painted. They set out to document the landscape, firstly the Australian landscape as seen in the European tradition, and then in a more realistic yet romanticised form in later paintings. Early colour aquatints of Aboriginal people depict them climbing trees in an almost reptilian manner while later representations picture “a romantic vision of a vast, silent and forbidding land. Two generic Aboriginal people figures are included in the foreground in the guise of the noble savage.” Of a vanishing race. Other collages (a fictionalised representational technique), such as James Wallis’ View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background (c. 1818), propose “a harmonious relationship between the Awabakal, colonisers and the military. Such a suggestion is at odds with earlier events of April 1816 when Wallis, under the direction of Governor Macquarie, led an armed regiment against Dharawal and Gandangara people south of Sydney, in what is now acknowledged as the first officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous people in Australia.” (Exhibition text) Further, the romanticised vistas of colonial interloper John Glover (1767-1849) evoke, “an idyll where the natives were at one with nature, even as the slaughter was upon them…” (Damian Smith, 2018). This connection to nature can be seen in Glover’s painting The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm (1837). But, as the exhibition text notes, “Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.” These representations of Aboriginal life are pure fiction constructed in the imagination of the artists and colonisers.

By way of contrast, the portraits of landed gentry, such as Thomas Bock’s four paintings of Captain William Robertson and his family (1830s-50s), are elegant and flattering. They are portraits executed in the grand Georgian manner fashionable in England and were greatly prized by colonists. Here is a family who has made it, and they want everyone to know about it. The roots of their representation are in the old country, their allegiance there also, to the mother country. Australia is a colony, part of the British Empire, an outpost of all that is right and proper in the world. Imagine just for a second that you are back in the 1850s. No electricity, only candle power. Now imagine arriving at a home with these portraits, or the landscapes of John Glover, lit by candle light. The skin would be luminescent, the golden frames glowing in the light; the trees in the Glover paintings would have writhed, seeming almost alive in the flickering light. A forbidding landscape indeed.

In portraiture, the same disposition can be seen in the early daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs of Aboriginals and colonists.

“Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits [see below] of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country.” (Exhibition text)

If we look at these small, personal, one-off photographs housed in leather cases that can be closed off from the world, when opened to reveal the Aboriginal sitters … we notice how frontal they are, how they face straight on to the camera, how grouped they are, how they fill the picture plane with little negative space around them, how the camera seems to press in on them, as though to capture every last detail of their countenance and clothing. Their visage. The aspect of their being. These are ethnographic documents as much as they are portraits, for they map the condition of the captives. If, as Michael Graham-Stewart states in his book Bitter fruit: Australian photographs to 1963, “photography operates not only as an instrument of oppression, but also as a means of connecting with people of the past,” what do contemporary Indigenous Australians make of these images. Do they find evidence of wrongdoing and suffering but also of resistance, adaptation, and continuity? Are they also angry and sad at what they have lost, as in a thriving and incredibly diverse culture? I would be.

Again, by way of contrast we look at how the colonists viewed themselves in these personal treasures. Here, we must remember that these early photographs would have been relatively expensive for a family to have commissioned them, almost as expensive say, in contemporary terms, as buying a plasma television when they first came out. Only the well-to-do would have been able to afford to have their portrait taken. Two examples of this providence and bounty can be seen in this posting. The portrait of The Lashmar family by William Millington Nixon (1857-58, see below) shows a family who were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. “Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise.” (Exhibition text) While Aboriginals while forced from their land and massacred, pastoralists were making money and prospering from the confiscated lands.

Nothing better shows the sense of entitlement that the early pastoralists had (and still do today, with their illegal land clearing) towards their possession of the land and their identity that arose from that possession, than the commissioned set of five portraits by daguerreotype portraitist George Goodman of the daughters of prominent local land holder William Lawson II in the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney. Dressed in their finest, the young daughters, arms covered, clutch flowers and either look away from the camera or directly at it. The camera is placed directly at eye level, or slightly below it, and the space around the sitter is open and amorphous, a plain background which isolates the figure in space. Unlike the claustrophobic portraits by Douglas Kilburn of the Aboriginals from the Kulin nation, here the sitters seem to possess the space of the photograph, they inhabit and can breathe in the pictorial plane. In particular, the portrait of Susannah Caroline Lawson (1845, below) pictures a young woman with an incredibly determined stare and haughty demeanour. She seems to radiate a perfect sense of entitlement within the physical presence of the photograph.

Other photographs reinforce this vision of the world that the colonists enacted. Thomas Bock’s Portrait of two boys (1848-50, below) “shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848… Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country.” (Gael Newton)

There is the rub. For migrants who were a long way from home, photography was proof that they were alive, successful, flourishing… and could live up to the expectations of their family back home and the standards of the old country. “Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.” (Exhibition text) An emotional connection for people living in a far off land to those back “home”, and an emotional connection to family in a forbidding land, to remind themselves of their strength and unity in the face of the unknown.

What this exhibition does not show, because they are later photographs, is evidence of the overt oppression of Indigenous peoples that photography documented. While terra nullius is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land” usually associated with colonising Australia, the British Government using this term to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people, there is also another term, terra incognita, a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. In many ways the terror that Indigenous people experienced during invasion is still being mapped and explored. Much of it is still not known or is unaccepted, as a terror incognita. Dr Katherine Ellinghaus in her article “Criss-Cross History Hidden in a Letter,” notes that, “Reconciliation Australia’s own biennial survey [2016] has found that more than one in three Australians don’t accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subject to mass killings, incarceration, and forced removal from their lands.”

This is the terror that still exists in the Australian psyche. The terror of cutting ties to the motherland, the terror of an incognita, an “unknown land”, and the hidden terror prescribed and enacted on the cultural body of the Aboriginal, unacknowledged by some even today.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,853

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

 

Unknown photographer. 'Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup' 1851 Ambrotype

 

Unknown photographer
Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup
1851
Ambrotype
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Robert Lyall was a successful Tasmanian publican and businessman whose interests extended to horse racing. In 1851 his prized horse Patience won the New Norfolk Cup and Lyall was the recipient of a handsome silver presentation cup. Not only evidence of his success and standing, the cup was apparently also of great personal significance to Lyall as he included it as a decorative element when this large-scale ambrotype was commissioned. Unlike more intimately scaled cased images, this photograph was framed so that it could be prominently displayed on the wall. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

 

Kulin

The Kulin nation is an alliance of five Indigenous Australian tribes in south central Victoria, Australia. Their collective territory extended around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. Before British colonisation, the tribes spoke five related languages. These languages were spoken in two groups: the Eastern Kulin group of Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Taungurong and Ngurai-illam-wurrung; and the western language group of just Wathaurung.

The central Victoria area has been inhabited for an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 years before European settlement. At the time of British settlement in the 1830s, the collective populations of the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong tribes of the Kulin nation was estimated to be under 20,000. The Kulin lived by fishing, hunting and gathering, and made a sustainable living from the rich food sources of Port Phillip and the surrounding grasslands.

Due to the upheaval and disturbances from British settlement from the 1830s on, there is limited physical evidence of the Kulin peoples’ collective past. However, there is a small number of registered sites of cultural and spiritual significance in the Melbourne area.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)' 1847 (left) and 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 (right) Daguerreotypes

 

Left

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)
1847
Daguerreotype
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2007

Right

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

As a way of attracting attention to his newly opened business Douglas Kilburn took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people in the lands of the Kulin nation. As a result of the nineteenth-century belief that the Aboriginal people were doomed to annihilation, Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits; nevertheless, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. His photographs were popular with local artists such as Eugene von Guérard and John Skinner Prout, who copied them, and they also reached an international audience when they were used as the basis for wood engravings in William Westgarth’s Australia Felix in 1848, Nordisk Penning-Magazin in 1849 and the Illustrated London News in 1850. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman Lawson children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Maria Emily Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1993

Middle

Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Goodman Lawson mother and children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

Middle

Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

George Goodman arrived in Sydney in 1842 and established the first professional photography studio in Australia. Although he is known to have made photographs of Tasmanian street scenes, his stock-in-trade was portraiture. Goodman travelled to regional towns where he advertised his services as a daguerreotype portraitist. In 1845 he visited the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney, and was commissioned to photograph the family of prominent local land holder William Lawson II. The resulting series includes five individual portraits of Lawson’s young daughters and a charming, and surprisingly informal, image showing his wife Caroline Lawson and their young son. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Susannah Caroline Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Eliza Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Caroline and Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sophia Rebecca Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sarah Ann Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s) 'Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)' c. 1856 Ambrotypes

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s)
Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)
c. 1856, Adelaide
Two ambrotypes, colour dyes, gold paint
9.4 x 6.8 cm (each image, oval)
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund 2010
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001

 

 

One of the largest and most celebrated Sydney photographic studios was run by the Freeman Brothers, whose skilful portraits were much admired. This pair of entrepreneurial photographers used the latest processes, building a large, well-appointed studio and actively promoting their work through display in international exhibitions. James Freeman was also extremely well versed in the potential uses of the medium, delivering a comprehensive lecture on the topic to a Sydney society in 1858. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'No title (Seated woman)' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
No title (Seated woman)
c. 1858
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
13.6 h x 10.7 w cm (case)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Professor Robert Hall. ‘Portrait of a gentleman with check pants’ 1855-65 and Thomas Glaister. ‘George Coppin’ c. 1855

 

Left

Professor Robert Hall (active in Australia mid 19th century)
No title (Portrait of a gentleman with check pants)
1855-65
Stereo ambrotype, colour dyes
8.8 x 17.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R. J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004

Right

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
George Coppin
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand tinted, gilt-matted and glazed
5.2 x 12.7 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Selth Coppin (8 April 1819 – 14 March 1906) was a comic actor, entrepreneur and politician, active in Australia. For more information see the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001

 

Thomas Bock. ‘William Robertson Jnr.’ c. 1852 and ‘Margaret Robertson’ c. 1852

 

Left

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Right

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

News of scientific discoveries reached Australia via the flotillas of ships plying the southern trade routes. The first demonstrations of photography occurred in England and France in 1839. News of this reached Australia that same year and was described in an account in the Tasmanian newspaper The Cornwall Chronicle on 19 October 1839. Former convict Thomas Bock was one of the earliest Tasmanian photographers, first advertising his studio in September 1843. His daguerreotype portraits resemble his paintings and drawings in their composition and use of hand-colouring. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Bock

1790 – 1855

Thomas Bock, artist, printmaker and photographer, is believed to have been born at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, in 1790. He completed an apprenticeship as an engraver with Thomas Brandard in Birmingham and in 1814 established his own business there, advertising himself as an ‘Engraver and Miniature Painter’. In April 1823, Bock and a woman named Mary Day Underhill appeared at the Warwickshire Assizes charged with ‘administering concoctions of certain herbs to Ann Yates, with the intent to cause a miscarriage.’ Both were found guilty and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. At the time of his conviction, Bock was thirty-two, married and father to five children. Bock arrived in Hobart aboard the Asia in January 1824. His convict record stated he had ‘served an apprenticeship to the Engraving Business’ and described him as ‘well connected and very orderly.’ The colonial authorities found immediate use for Bock, some of his earliest Tasmanian works being bank notes engraved for the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and a drawing of executed cannibal, Alexander Pearce, made in July 1824 at the request of the Colonial Surgeon. Bock worked as a printmaker during the 1820s, engraving stationery along with illustrations for publications such as the Hobart Town Almanack while also producing portraits. He received a conditional pardon in 1832 and free pardon a year later, thereafter establishing a highly successful practice as Hobart’s most sought-after portrait artist. Bock was particularly known for his portrait drawings utilising watercolour, pencil, chalk and pastel (or ‘French crayon’), but his practice was diverse, incorporating printmaking and oil painting as well as photography. On his death in Hobart in March 1855 he was described as ‘an artist of a very high order’ whose works ‘adorned the homes of a number of our old colonists and citizens.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'William Robertson Jnr.' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

William Robertson (1839-1892), barrister and politician, was the third of the seven children of pastoralist William Robertson (1798-1874) and his wife Margaret (née Whyte, 1811-1866). Robertson was born and educated in Hobart and then at Wadham College, Oxford. He is believed to be the first Australian to row in an Oxford eight, his team victorious against Cambridge in the Boat Race of 1861. Robertson graduated with a BA in 1862 and was married and called to the bar the following year. On his return to Australia, Robertson practised law in Hobart before heading to Victoria in 1864. He worked as a barrister in Melbourne and then assisted in the management of the family property, Corangamarah, which he and his three brothers jointly inherited on the death of their father in 1874. Robertson served as a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly between 1871 and 1874 and again from 1881 to 1886; he was also President of the Colac Shire council in 1880-81. After the dissolution of the partnership with his brothers in 1885, Robertson became sole owner of Corangamarah, later called The Hill, and in retirement enjoyed the lifestyle of an ‘hospitable and sports-loving country gentleman.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'Margaret Robertson' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Margaret Robertson (née Whyte, 1811-1866) was the daughter of settlers George and Jessie Whyte, who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Scotland in 1832. In September 1834, Margaret married Scottish-born entrepreneur and landowner William Robertson (1798-1874), who had arrived in the colony in 1822 and who, in the decade leading up to his marriage, had acquired land nearby to a property owned by Margaret’s family. The first of Margaret and William’s seven children – four sons and three daughters – was born in 1835. The family resided in Hobart until the early 1860s, when Roberston relocated to his Victorian estate, where Margaret died in February 1866.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'No title (Portrait of two boys)' 1848-50

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
No title (Portrait of two boys)
1848-50, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Daguerreotype
case closed 7.0 h x 6.0 w cm case open 7.5 h x 13.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The daguerreotype was first demonstrated in Australia in Sydney in May 1841. Late the following year, London’s George Goodman set up the first commercial studio in Sydney, claiming to have an exclusive license to use the daguerreotype in the colonies. Goodman was working in Hobart in August 1843, where he came in direct competition with British convict artist Thomas Bock.

Although an engraver by trade, Bock had a keen interest in photography and, in the Hobart Town Advertiser of 29 September 1843, he advertised that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. Infuriated, Goodman threatened legal action and Bock promptly withdrew until five years later when he opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart.

Bock’s stepson Alfred assisted him in the photography-side of the studio business. They had seen daguerreotype portraits brought from London by Reverend Francis Russell Nixon in Hobart in June 1843 – before Goodman’s arrival in Tasmania – and had purchased a camera from a Frenchman in Hobart so that they could learn the new art form using photographic formulas published in English magazines. Their lack of proper training, however, shows in Hobart dignitary GTYB Boyes’s records of August 1849, in which he comments, ‘Bock understands the nature of his apparatus but very imperfectly!’ Despite this and other unfavourable remarks between 1849 and 1853, Boyes continued to visit Bock’s studios for daguerreotype portraits.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848 – a year before Boyes’s initial disparaging remark. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are as yet unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples of double portraits of children that have survived out of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 - Australia 1893, Australia from 1855) 'The Lashmar family' 1857-58

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 – Australia 1893, Australia from 1855)
The Lashmar family
1857-58
Daguerreotype, coloured inks; gold, leather, brass, metal, velvet and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Shortly after his arrival in Adelaide in 1855, William Millington Nixon began making daguerreotypes, and quickly become a skilled daguerreotypist. By 1858 he had built a reputation as a portraitist and established a studio in King William Street, Adelaide.

The Lashmar family were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a nun)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a nun)
c. 1860
Ambrotype with hand tinting
4.0 x 16.5 x 12.5 cm (box)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R.J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse' 1861

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse
1861
Ambrotype, coloured-dyes
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

WATERHOUSE BROTHERS: Jabez Bunting (1821-1891), Joseph (1828-1881), and Samuel (1830-1918), Wesleyan ministers, were the fifth, ninth and tenth children of Rev. John Waterhouse (d. 1842) and his wife Jane Beadnell, née Skipsey. In 1838 their father, a prominent Yorkshire Methodist, was appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Australia and Polynesia with a roving commission. With his wife, seven sons and three daughters, he reached Hobart Town in the James on 1 February 1839.

Jabez was born in London on 19 April 1821, educated at Kingswood School in 1832-35 and apprenticed to a printer. In Hobart, A. Bent’s printing premises were purchased and worked by Jabez. In 1840 he became a local preacher extending his ministry to convict road menders. Received as a probationer in 1842, he returned to England to enter Richmond (Theological) College and in 1845 was appointed to Windsor circuit. After his ordination at the Methodist chapel, Spitalfields, he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land in 1847, and ministered successively in the Hobart, Westbury, Campbell Town and Longford circuits. In 1855 the first conference of the Wesleyan Church in Australia appointed him to South Australia; he served at Kapunda, Willunga and Adelaide, his ministry marked by his business acumen and his role as secretary of the Australasian Conference at Adelaide in 1862.

In 1864 Waterhouse was transferred to New South Wales and was appointed successively to Maitland, Goulburn, Orange, Waverley, Parramatta, Newcastle and Glebe. In 1874-75 he was secretary of the New South Wales and Queensland Annual Conference and president in 1876; he was elected secretary of the first three general conferences of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church: in Melbourne 1875, Sydney 1878 and Adelaide 1881. In 1882 he retired as a supernumerary, but remained on committees such as those of the Sustentation and Extension Society and the Missionary Society, frequently looking after missionary interests during the absence of George Brown. He supported the Wesleyan Church in Tonga in the dispute with S. W. Baker and published The Secession and the Persecution in Tonga … (Sydney, 1886). Regarded as a gifted preacher by his denomination and as the architect of most of the conference legislation, he died of heart disease and dropsy at Randwick on 18 January 1891 and was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Maria Augusta, née Bode, whom he had married at Windsor, England, on 13 August 1847, and by seven sons; his second son John was headmaster of Sydney High School.

Niel Gunson. Australian Dictionary of Biography

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ and ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Left

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Right

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of mother and child)' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of mother and child)
c. 1855
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Gift of Tooth & Company Ltd under the Australian Government’s Tax Incentives for the Arts Scheme, 1986
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. ‘Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock’ and ‘Jacky, known as Master Mortlock’ c. 1860

 

Left

Unknown photographer
Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock
c. 1860
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Right

Unknown photographer
Jacky, known as Master Mortlock
c. 1860-65
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Mortlock family were wealthy pastoralists in South Australia. Along with the daguerreotypes of family members they commissioned around 1860 are two portraits of their domestic servants known as Jemima and Jacky. Each member of the Mortlock family has been named in these images, but the identity of the two Aboriginal sitters has been lost – initially with the assignment of European first names and then the addition of the surname ‘master Mortlock’, which identified them as servants of the pastoralists who employed them. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone
c. 1860
Ambrotype, gold paint
15.5 x 12.1 cm (case)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund, 2010
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Professor John Smith' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Professor John Smith
c. 1858
Daguerreotype
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Presented by Miss Kate Crouch, 1942
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.

This group of family portraits shows members of the Wills family, including Thomas Wentworth Wills, who was a prominent sportsman and one of the authors of the rules of the game that later became known as Australian Rules. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)' 1860s and Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Left

Unknown photographer
No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)
1860s
Ambrotype; embossed leather, wood, velvet, brass, gilt metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 2007

Right

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The discovery of gold in 1851 led to extraordinary change in the colonies as migrants flooded in and previously unknown wealth enabled expansion and development. Across the colony mines were dug and small towns and settlements were established. This ambrotype shows a working mine in central Victoria and also reveals the environmental damage that resulted from the scramble for gold.

The desire to make a fortune on the goldfields brought about significant social change. Migrants such as Henry Kay, who arrived from Penang in the 1850s, came seeking gold but stayed on in various other roles, including that of court interpreter. (Exhibition text)

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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05
Apr
09

Review: ‘En Plein Air’ photographs by Siri Hayes at Gallerysmith, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th March – 18th April 2009

 

Siri Hayes. 'Gunnai man land' 2008

 

Siri Hayes
Gunnai man land
2008

 

 

A handsome group of large photographs in crisp white frames is displayed in the large space of Gallerysmith, Melbourne. Undoubtably they are well taken and printed photographs but conceptually their thematic development is confused. The photographs purport to investigate how industrialisation has changed the Gippsland landscape since colonisation whilst referencing human interactions that ‘are sometimes’ associated with Western art.

Gunnai land man (above) is very effective in this quest juxtaposing as it does an Indigenous Australian and fallen tree on a bare track with a smoke billowing power station (symbolic of the industrialisation of the area) looming in the background. Other photographs are less successful. What a man flying a kite has to do with the pre-colonial Gippsland landscape is beyond me and the juxtapositional incongruity sought by the artist simply does not work, despite the presence of the power station on the plains in the distance. The symbology has more to do with Japanese art than it has to do with Western art.

The conceptual narrative of the photograph Moe Madonna (below) works only partially as well. The destruction of the landscape has been caused by pastoralisation not industrialisation. In the image that Hayes is referencing the Madonna is front and centre set in an idyllic landscape. In the work by Hayes the incongruity has to be explained, has to be verbalised in text for the association to be didactically made. The interpretation leaves no room for personal reflection and when I looked at this image, the mother and child were so small in the landscape, the placement so obviously constructed that there incongruity turned to disbelief: namely that I simply did not believe the mise en scène being created.

Other narratives are equally confusing. In Paper bag lovers (below) I had to ask the gallery director what was going on in the photograph because the bodies where so small in the landscape (in fact it looks like one body) and you can’t really see the paper bags on their heads because the bodies are just an amorphous mass containing no detail at all (you can just see the body in the photograph below in the mid distance just below the large central tree). Why paper bags anyway? If something intentionally odd and incongruous is sought to be portrayed in the landscape perhaps Hayes should look at the work of Eugene Meatyard (see below) to see a real subversion of the body/landscape dichotomy.

The one standout photograph of the exhibition is Plein air explorers (below). This is confirmed in the sales of the show as all six prints of this photograph have been sold. One can see why!

The title is perfect, the construction of the image faultless. The naked white man stands proudly surveying his conquered domain, the land, whilst around him artists (reminding me of the dilettantes of the Victorian age going on day trips), hunker down into the ground with their easels oblivious to the desiccated trees around them. Here the photographer just observes, doesn’t construct, the incongruity of it all. The artists draw the white man based on direct observation of him and not on their conceptions or conventional images or memories of him while ignoring their surroundings. Here is the paradox, the ironic perfect storm that the artist was conceptually seeking: the representation of landscape based upon direct observation “in the open air” ignored for a perfect white arse while on the horizon smoke stacks of a power station stand in silent witness to the present and imminent destruction of the world. What a photograph! Can I have one now please?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Gallerysmith for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Siri Hayes. 'Moe Madonna' 2008

 

Siri Hayes
Moe Madonna
2008

 

Siri Hayes. 'Kite' 2008

 

Siri Hayes
Kite
2008

 

Raphael. 'Madonna of the Goldfinch' 1505-06

 

Raphael (Italian, 1483-1520)
Madonna of the Goldfinch
1505-06
Oil on panel
107 x 77 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi

 

Siri Hayes. 'Paper Bag Lovers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes
Paper Bag Lovers
2008

 

Eugene Meatyard. 'Lucybelle Crater & her 15-year-old son's friend, Lucybelle Crater' 1970-1

 

Eugene Meatyard
Lucybelle Crater & her 15-year-old son’s friend, Lucybelle Crater
1970-1

 

 

“I have predominantly focused on the parts of the Gippsland landscape that have been impacted by white settlement. I have composed various human interactions that are sometimes associated with Western art and its construction. For example, Moe Madonna references Raphael’s Goldfinch Madonna. The narratives are intentionally odd and incongruous with the surrounding location. My son and I seem out-of-place in a barren paddock while the autumn mist shrouds distant gum trees and electricity pylons. The soil here has been compacted beyond repair by cattle hooves – an inappropriate animal in Australia’s delicate ecosystems. As we sit on this barren plain, I read to Oliver from a European pre-schooler book titled Autumn, creating an interesting juxtaposition with the antipodean equivalent season.

The work in this exhibition considers the pre-colonial Gippsland landscape and how industrial ‘progress’ has altered it. Hopefully it provides pause for thought.”

Siri Hayes exhibition notes. March 2009

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes
Plein air explorers
2008

 

 

Gallerysmith
170-174 Abbotsford St,
North Melbourne,
Victoria, 3051 Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday, 11am – 5.30pm

Gallerysmith website

Siri Hayes 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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