Photographer Mervyn Bishop to be celebrated by new Canberra exhibition

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) will celebrate Mervyn Bishop, one of Australia’s most prolific and influential photographers, with a new exhibition opening in Canberra on 5 March.

Mr Bishop’s Images of culture, politics and people have significantly influenced our collective understanding of Australia’s history. This exhibition is drawn from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) collection, the artist’s private archive, and enriched by sound and moving image from the NFSA.

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 provides a fascinating insight into Bishop’s life and work.

NFSA Acting CEO Nancy Eyers said: ‘We are pleased to bring the work of Mervyn Bishop to Canberra, and share his story with our audiences. Mr Bishop’s photographs present us with a wonderful combination of history, artistic excellence, and self-representation. In addition to the striking prints from the AGNSW, the NFSA’s audiovisual collection will bring a new dimension to the exhibition.’

Mervyn Bishop said: ‘Photography has been my life, my passion for 60 years: the art and technique, the stories I’ve witnessed and captured. I’m glad to be able to share my life’s work with the public.

‘This comprehensive exhibition was developed by the AGNSW, but there are new additions from the NFSA collection for Canberra audiences. It’s been fantastic working with them; there are not many exhibitions that combine photography with mixed media, and I think visitors will be amazed by this combination.’

AGNSW Curator Coby Edgar added: ‘Working with Mervyn Bishop and the NFSA to build this show has been a truly collaborative process with the aim to present Australia through Mervyn’s eyes. 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.’

In 1963 Mervyn Bishop left his hometown 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.

Mervyn Bishop’s childhood, his life experiences and career will be explored by former Reuters journalist Tim Dobbyn in an upcoming biography tentatively titled A Handful of Sand.

The Mervyn Bishop exhibition will be open at the NFSA in Canberra from 5 March – 1 August 2021; tickets available from 15 February 2021 at

The exhibition will be complemented by a suite of special events and public programs, to be announced in coming weeks.

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