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Mervyn Bishop

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Name  Mervyn Bishop

Role  Photographer
Mervyn Bishop Town picnic Brewarrina 1966 printed 2008 by Mervyn

Mervyn bishop prime minister gough whitlam pours soil 1975

Mervyn Bishop (born 1945) is an Australian news and documentary photographer. Joining The Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet in 1962 or 1963, he was the first Aboriginal Australian to work on a metropolitan daily newspaper and one of the first Aboriginal Australians to become a professional photographer. In 1971, four years after completing his cadetship, he was named Australian Press Photographer of the Year. He has continued to work as a photographer and lecturer. Bishop is a member of the Murri people.


Mervyn Bishop National Museum of Australia The story behind an iconic

Early life

Mervyn Bishop australianmuseumnetauUploadsImages28605Mervy

Bishop was born in Brewarrina in north-west New South Wales. His father, "Minty" Bishop, had been a soldier and shearer, and was himself born to an Aboriginal mother and a Punjabi Indian father. In 1950, "Minty" gained an "official exemption certificate which permitted 'more advanced' Aborigines to live apart from mission blackfellas in post-war Australia". This enabled the family to live among "ordinary" people in Brewarrina. The catch to this certificate was that the exempt Aborigines were expected to "sever their ties with their old culture".

Mervyn Bishop The Guestroom Mervyn Bishop ABC Darwin Australian

By high school he had started "chronicling the family with a camera – first his mother's Kodak 620 and, then a 35mm Japanese camera he bought for ₤15". He moved to Dubbo when he was 14 to finish his high school at the Dubbo High School.

Mervyn Bishop Mervyn Bishop Art Gallery NSW

His wife, Elizabeth, died of cancer in 1991, and he was left to care for their teenage son, Tim, and six-year-old daughter, Rosemary.


Mervyn Bishop Mervyn Bishop The Collection Art Gallery NSW

He began his career as a cadet photographer with The Sydney Morning Herald in 1962, the first Aboriginal photographer hired by the paper. During four years of his cadetship, he completed a Photography Certificate Course at Sydney Technical College. In 2004, he remained the only indigenous photographer to have been employed by the paper.

Mervyn Bishop Mervyn Bishop blazed trail as Australias first Aboriginal press

He won the Nikon-Walkley Australian Press Photographer of the Year in 1971 with Life and Death Dash (1971).

Mervyn Bishop Snap happy Dubbo Photo News Dubbo Weekender

From 1974 to 1980, he worked as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs staff photographer. Some of his most enduring work came from this period, as he visited indigenous communities and documented "the first flush of an idealistic era when land rights, equal wages and government-funded aid seemed to presage a new dawn for Aboriginal Australians".

Mervyn Bishop The Photograph and Australia the curator and the exhibition

It was during this time, in 1975, that he shot the iconic photograph of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Gurindji traditional owner, Vincent Lingiari, at the handover of the deeds to Gurindji country at Wattie Creek. This photograph has been seen as capturing "the symbolic birth of landrights".

Mervyn Bishop Mervyn Bishop Photography Image Gallery HCPR

He returned to the Herald in 1979, before becoming a freelance photographer in 1986, working for such agencies as the National Geographic Society.

Bishop completed further studies and lectured in photography at Tranby Aboriginal College, the Eora College and at the Tin Sheds Gallery at the University of Sydney.

In 1991 he had his first solo exhibition, In Dreams: Mervyn, Thirty Years of Photography 1960 to 1990, at the Australian Centre for Photography. Originally curated by Tracey Moffatt, it went on to tour for over 10 years. A book titled In Dreams was published to accompany the exhibition.

He produced a one-man performance piece, Flash Blak, in the vein of a William Yang slide show to music and written and directed by Yang, for the 2004 Message Sticks Festival at the Sydney Opera House. His aim in the show was to delve "into his family's history to illuminate a wider story about Aboriginal life in the latter half of the 20th century". He also worked as a stills photographer on Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Bishop's work was included in Candid Camera: Australian Photography 1950s–1970s at the Art Gallery of South Australia (May to August 2010), a group retrospective of social documentary photography which also featured the work of key Australian photographers Max Dupain, David Moore, Jeff Carter, Robert McFarlane, Rennie Ellis, Carol Jerrems and Roger Scott. A number of Bishop's photographs are held in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia.


  • 1971: He won the Nikon-Walkley Australian Press Photographer of the Year for Life and Death Dash, a photograph, which had appeared on the front page of the Herald in January 1971, depicting a nun rushing to get help for an Aboriginal child.
  • 2000: He was awarded the Australia Council's $50,000 Red Ochre Award, through its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board.
  • Solo and group exhibitions

  • 1991, In Dreams: Mervyn Bishop Thirty Years of Photography 1960–1990, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney and touring
  • 1991, Images of Black Sport, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
  • 1991, Her Story: Images of Domestic Labour in Australian Art, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney
  • 1991, Fine and mostly sunny: photographs from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • 1992, Cultural exchange with the Chinese Photographic Society and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • 1992, Recent Acquisitions – Australian Photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1993, Aratjara: Art of the First Australians, Touring: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek
  • 1993, Urban Focus: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art from the Urban Areas of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • 1993, Photographs from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1994, Critic's choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1994, We Are Family, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1996, From the Street – Photographs From the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1997, Discipline and beauty, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 1998, Retake: Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Photography, National Gallery of Australia
  • 2000, Another country, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2001, A Dubbo Day with Jimmy and other reconciliation images, Stills Gallery, Paddington
  • 2003, New View: Indigenous Photographic Perspectives, Monash Gallery
  • 2003, On the Beach: with Whiteley and fellow Australian artists, Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills
  • 2004, Australian postwar photodocumentary, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2008, Half Light: Portraits from Black Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2010, Candid Camera: Australian Photography 1950s–1970s, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
  • 2011, What's in a face? aspects of portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2012, Home: Aboriginal Art from NSW, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2015, The photograph and Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • 2017, Mervyn Bishop (24 June – 8 October), Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • References

    Mervyn Bishop Wikipedia

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