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Mervyn Bishop: celebrating one of Australia’s most prolific photographers

A fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work through photographs

Mervyn Bishop Cousins, Ralph and Jim, Brewarrina 1966, gelatin silver photograph, Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased under the terms of the Florence Turner Blake Bequest 2008 © Mervyn Bishop

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is pleased to announce Mervyn Bishop, an exhibition celebrating the prolific and longstanding career of a photographer whose records of culture, politics and people have contributed greatly to an understanding of Australia’s history.

Alongside the works from the Gallery’s collection, material from the artist’s personal photographic archive is on display via a curated slideshow. Selected from an archive of over 8000 images, the majority of which have never before been seen in public, the slideshow features images taken over the past 60 years affording a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work through photographs.

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his home town 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.

Deputy director of the Art Gallery of NSW Maud Page said the exhibition recognises the photographer’s contribution to art and photojournalism over half a century.

“Mervyn’s photographs are compelling records of a time and place when no other Aboriginal person was taking photographs in such volume and across such a range of subjects,” said Page.

“Mervyn’s career plays a pivotal role in the self-representation of the Aboriginal community. He has captured moments that are of great value to the histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to all of us as Australians,” Page added.

Mervyn Bishop said he is thrilled to have his work showcased at the Gallery.

“Exhibiting at the Gallery is definitely a career highlight for me. I have been taking pictures for some time and realising this exhibition is very much a part of my life and my dreaming,” Bishop said.

“The show is a collection of my memories of meeting people – bringing together images from my personal archives alongside photographs I took on jobs,” Bishop added.

Photographs by Bishop of defining moments in Australia’s political and social history, personal images of family and friends, and intimate portraits of members of the Aboriginal community all feature in Mervyn Bishop.

The exhibition also showcases a collection of cameras used to capture now iconic images, along with those Bishop experimented with as a young photographer growing up in Brewarrina, north-west New South Wales.

The Art Gallery of NSW presents a series of events in association with Mervyn Bishop including exhibition talks and live music.

As part of NAIDOC Week celebrations at the Gallery enjoy a slide night with Uncle Merv Bishop and hear the fascinating stories behind his photographs. Also on offer as part of the Art After Hours program is Warwick Thornton in conversation about photography, filmmaking and Bishop’s influence on recent generations of young Aboriginal photographers and filmmakers.

On view
24 Jun – 8 Oct 2017
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Media contact

Hannah McKissock-Davis
Tel 02 9225 1671