National Film and Sound Archive's exhibition on photographer Mervyn Bishop

Photographer Mervyn Bishop at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia with the photo he took of then-prime minister Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Photographer Mervyn Bishop at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia with the photo he took of then-prime minister Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

When Mervyn Bishop first got the call to attend an event in the Northern Territory in 1975, all he knew was the then-prime minister Gough Whitlam would be there.

By the time he had left the event, he had captured one of the most iconic photos in Australian history.

The image of Whitlam pouring a handful of earth back into the hand of Gurindji elder and traditional landowner Vincent Lingiari - marking the return of his people's is traditional lands - is still instantly recognisable. And yet, the photograph itself was a do-over.

Whitlam first poured dirt into the elder's hand under the shade of a shed. It was Bishop who asked to retake the image in the sunshine.

"I just thought the bright blue sky behind them would be nice so I asked them to move," he said.

"I just like creating images. Taking something that might not look so good and move things or people around to make it look better. With Whitlam and Vincent, I took them outside and then got them in the right shape.

"It's been 60 years of my life that I've been interested in photography, and kind of never left me."

Photographer Mervyn Bishop at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for the launch of his new exhibition. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Photographer Mervyn Bishop at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for the launch of his new exhibition. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The photograph is just one of the images on display in the National Film and Sound Archive's latest exhibition dedicated to Bishop's life and work.

Bishop became Australia's first Aboriginal press photographer in 1963, and in 1971 he won News Photographer of the Year Award with his photograph of a nun carrying a child to hospital in her arms.

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The exhibition, 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 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 National Film and Sound Archive.

"Working with Mervyn Bishop and the National Film and Sound Archive to build this show has been a truly collaborative process with the aim to present Australia through Mervyn's eyes," Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Coby Edgar said.

"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."

  • The Mervyn Bishop exhibition will be open at the National Film and Sound Archive on Friday. Tickets are available from nfsa.gov.au.

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This story Man behind iconic Whitlam-Lingiari photo to showcase work in ACT first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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