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Australian art


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Jimmy Little - State Funeral Kwementyaye Perkins



Mervyn Bishop


1945 -


‘Whenever I went to a community for a special assignment I’d take a lot more general documentary pictures of what was going on. In this way I was, if only for myself, making a record.’ Mervyn Bishop 1990 1

Mervyn Bishop was born in Brewarrina, New South Wales, and developed an interest in photography at a young age. In 1963 he was offered a photography cadetship at the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and during this period completed the Photography Certificate Course at Sydney Technical College, one of the first Aboriginal students to attend and graduate. He also became Australia’s first Aboriginal press photographer and in 1971 was awarded News Photographer of the Year. He worked for the ‘Herald’ until 1974, then at the newly formed Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra as staff photographer.

Bishop’s retrospective exhibition, ‘In dreams: Mervyn Bishop, thirty years of photography 1960–1990’, was held in 1991 at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, later touring Australia (1991–93) and England (1994). In 2000 he was given the Red Ochre Award by the Australia Council and in 2004 collaborated with William Yang to produce a theatrical memoir of his life, ‘Flash blak’.

‘Jimmy Little – State Funeral Kwementyaye Perkins’ was taken at the funeral of influential Aboriginal activist and pioneering spokesman for Indigenous affairs Charles Perkins (1936–2000) at Sydney Town Hall and continues Bishop’s important chronicling of Aboriginal life. The image is evocative in its commemorative and symbolic register, using pictorial absence in its sensitive record of the passing of a respected Indigenous leader. The elevated point of view, abstracted and formally balanced elements, imbue the image with an elegiac harmony.

1. Moffatt T ed 1991, ‘In dreams: Mervyn Bishop, thirty years of photography 1960–1990’, Australian Centre for Photography, Paddington p 9

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph




30.4 x 50.5 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mervyn Bishop

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 107 (colour illus.).

Bronwyn Clark-Coolee, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Time - memory - people', pg.246-265, Sydney, 2007, 248, 263 (illus.).