The truth really is about an honest interpretation.
Ricky Maynard, 2007
What do you see when you look into Ricky Maynard’s photographs? Do you see the incredible attention to detail in the work of a tremendously gifted and dedicated picture-maker, or perhaps the technical mastery and passion of an artist who has remained loyal to the tradition of large-format photography? Maybe you see the unique cultural presence in Maynard’s works that gives them a layered complexity and challenges the perspective of the viewer.
Maynard’s practice is skilled, considered and culturally charged, and in Portrait of a distant land the work seems intensely personal and critical on a number of levels. This series of photographs traces the modern evolution and adaptation of the ancient living culture of Aboriginal people in Tasmania alongside recent European settlement, in the context of the frequently violent interaction between the two cultures.
Maynard is a member of the Big River and Ben Lomond tribes of Tasmania, and his work is about the history of his people. He tells their stories as a way of honouring them and affirming the maintenance of local Aboriginal cultural practices. His photographs are indeed portraits: of people, and of places; more than mere documentation they illuminate local Aboriginal history. In his first body of work, the Moonbird people1985–88, Maynard depicted a Tasmanian Aboriginal community from the Bass Strait during the annual muttonbird season. In Portrait of a distant land Maynard shows the physical and social landscape of his people through songlines, corner stones, petroglyphs, massacre sites, middens, meeting places, sacred sites and cultural practices, in a combination of visual diary and oral history. The works question the ownership of land and history. Recognising that the history represented in Australian cultural institutions is largely written – and pictured – by the dominant colonising European culture, Maynard invites audiences to understand things from a different perspective, that of the first Tasmanians. He asserts:
We now tell our own history. Picking that up and carrying forth.
Each image in Portrait of a distant land is juxtaposed with personal, poignant and insightful words by revered members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, who have maintained and upheld local cultural heritage. Maynard believes strongly in maintaining cultural integrity in his practice, and he sees the process of picture-making as collaboration with his subjects.
In The healing garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania and Death in exile, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania both 2005, Maynard portrays two sides of the human condition by showing two important aspects of the same place: Wybalenna on Flinders Island. Here is both life and death. The pictures are about remembering both the bad and the good: Aboriginal people living in exile because of conflict and broken promises, yet, perhaps most importantly, revealing the ability to heal. Vansittart Island 2007 depicts another site of exile for mainland Tasmanian Aboriginal people, where there is evidence of their graves, subsequently raided by Europeans in the name of research. This culturally insensitive, indeed barbaric, practice is controversial yet sadly continues today.
The first four images in Maynard’s Portrait of a distant land were completed in 2005 to wide acclaim, and were subsequently produced as billboards around Sydney train stations and freeways as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Interesting times: focus on contemporary Australian art (22 September to 27 November 2005). This high-visibility project was later included in the Busan Biennale (Korea) in October 2006 and Ten Days on the Island (Tasmania) in March 2007. The title of the series highlights the artist’s desire to create a body of work that is considered and true; a portrait, by definition, is an honest and genuine attempt to portray a person, place or subject matter. Maynard presents important aspects of Aboriginal history, of a people largely ignored or defined by romanticised stereotypes that persisted through to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when their continued existence was still in dispute.
Maynard’s images do more than welcome us to aspects of his culture; they show the maintenance of Aboriginal cultural practice and challenge audiences to view our shared history and country with empathy and with greater understanding.
The works in Portrait of a distant land make a very powerful statement.
 Interview with Keith Munro, 2 March 2007.
 Maynard, interview.