Mervyn Bishop

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Mervyn Bishop (born 1945) is an Australian news and documentary photographer. Joining the Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet in 1962[1][2] or 1963,[3] 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.[3] In 1971, four years after completing his cadetship, he was named Australian Press Photographer of the Year.[2][3] He has continued to work as a photographer and lecturer. Bishop is a member of the Murri people.

Early life[edit]

Bishop was born in Brewarrina in north-west NSW. 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".[1] 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".[1]

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".[4] He moved to Dubbo when he was 14 to finish his high school at the Dubbo High School.

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.[5]


He began his career as a cadet photographer with The Sydney Morning Herald in 1962, the first Aboriginal photographer ever hired by the paper.[1] In 2004, he remained the only indigenous photographer to have been employed by the paper.[5]

From 1974 to 1980, he worked as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs staff photographer. Some of his most enduring work came from this period,[5] 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".[5]

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".[1]

Through his photographs of the 1960s to 1980s, he captured the spirit of the times, whether it was documenting Sydney's anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in 1969, or exposing the Third World living conditions in Aboriginal communities as Australia celebrated its Bicentenary in 1988.[citation needed]

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.[4] 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".[4] 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 Bishops photographs are held in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia.[6]


Solo and Group Exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Guillatt (2004) p. 30
  2. ^ a b NGA Retake Artist Biography (1998)
  3. ^ a b c Winkler (2003)
  4. ^ a b c Guillatt (2004) p. 31
  5. ^ a b c d Guillatt (2004) p. 32
  6. ^ NGA Retake Artist Talk (1998)


  • National Gallery of Australia, Retake Artist Biography, August 1998 link
  • National Gallery of Australia, Retake Artist Talk, 17 October 1998 link
  • Winkler, Michael “Life in black and white", in The Age, 8 July 2003 link
  • Guilliatt, Richard "In black and white", in Good Weekend, 22 May 2004, p. 30-32

External links[edit]