• Photographer Mervyn Bishop is celebrated in a new exhibition bringing together thousands of photographs from a career spanning 60 years. (Supplied: National Film and Sound Archive )Source: Supplied: National Film and Sound Archive
Renowned Aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop's iconic images are being celebrated in the largest exhibition of his work at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.
Sarah Collard

5 Mar 2021 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2021 - 4:07 PM

Seventy-Six year old Mervyn Bishop has taken thousands and thousands of photos over his storied 60-year career as a photographer. 

His most iconic image is that of Prime Minister Gogh Whitlam pouring a handful of sand from Gurindji Country into the hands of Vincent Lingiari at the first land hand back in 1975. 

"It's my passion, my life's work you could say," Mervyn Bishop told NITV News.

Mr Bishop made a name for himself as Australia's first Aboriginal press photographer, working at the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1960s.

As a young boy growing up in Brewarina, New South Wales - his passion was sparked watching his mother take photographs before being introduced to the tools of the trade by a friend's father in a makeshift darkroom. 

"Watching that first print coming out was fantastic, just fantastic. I put in the fixer and looking at it later - 'I did that, I did that!' And really, I was hooked. I couldn't get enough of it," said Mr Bishop. 

A new exhibition by the National Sound and Film Archive and the Art Gallery of New South Wales has brought together thousands of his photographs, plus sound and video recordings.

The collection spans the decades of his work as a photographer snapping Prime Ministers, boxing great Lionel Rose, Indigenous ballerina Roslyn Watson, and designer of the Aboriginal Flag, Harold Thomas. 

The exhibit also showcases his work documenting the lives and living conditions of Aboriginal families through his work with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. 

Mr Bishop traveled the country meeting other Indigenous men, women and children living in tough conditions on the very fringes of society, always being invited into their homes for a cup of tea and a yarn. 

"A lot of people were really hesitant for me to take their picture and going into their house - they were shame," he said.


The exhibition is a rare opportunity for people to gain a greater insight into Mervyn Bishop the man but also the people in the photographs, said curator, Cody Edgar. 

Exhibition: 'precious' photos of Indigenous people's daily lives  

Ms Edgar said many of the people Mr Bishop met during his work had never had their photographs taken before they got in front of his lens. 

"He has been taking photos of Aboriginal people in their homes, in their employment, everyday lives... From a historical standpoint, some of these are very precious images of their family members that they never knew existed.

"We are trying to paint a picture of who the people he was photographing were. Indigenous people are looked at constantly but how often are we really seen? Mervyn makes us be seen as human beings," Ms Edgar told NITV News. 

"It's really special to be able to look at the films and listen to the audio in response to the photographs as well. I think it gives people a change to step back in time." she said. 

The Mervyn Bishop exhibition is open at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra until August. 

Top executive to resign over Juukan Gorge cave destruction
Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson says he accepts responsibility for destroying the 46,000-year-old caves, and will join the list of executives who have quit the company in the wake of the blast.
'Don’t let anybody or any system destroy your dreams': Taylah Gray
A Wiradjuri woman is putting a chequered academic past behind her after being accepted to write a PhD in law.