DETAIL: Michael RILEY, 'Untitled from the series cloud [feather]' Cloud series Feather 2000, printed 2005 Photograph chromogenic pigment print Ed: 1/5 NGA 2005.294.5, Reproduced courtesy of the Michael Riley Foundation and VISCOPY, Australia

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Guwanyi: stories of the Redfern Aboriginal community

In 1982–83 I was doing a short course at the Tin Sheds [University of Sydney gallery and dark room facilities on City Road, Chippendale] with Bruce Hart, who was running a Koori photography class a couple of days a week … He was working at Sydney College of the Arts at the time and he told me they were looking for someone to work as assistant technician in the darkroom at the College … I got a traineeship from DEET [Department of Education, Employment and Training] to do twelve months training in the darkroom and studio. I also did the first, second and third years in the space of about eighteen months instead of doing a three year course ... I worked as a freelance for two years at Rapport Agency. That was good. Challenging. I did a lot of work for Koori organisation: the [Aboriginal] Medical Service, stuff for annual reports, Aboriginal fashion parades, portfolios of Koori people wanting to get into modelling or dance, and Aboriginal and Islander dance companies. I also did stuff for the AECG [the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group] … I used to send a lot of stuff to The Bulletin, other freelance work through the agency. But I like doing stuff for Koori organisations first and foremost.
Michael Riley, ‘Liking what I do’, interview with Andrew Dewdney (1989), in Racism, representation and photography, Chippendale: Inner City Education Centre, 1993, pp. 141–2.

This series of photographs was exhibited in Guwanyi: stories of the Redfern Aboriginal community at the Museum of Sydney, 21 December 1996 – 4 May 1997. The exhibition was curated by Brad Webb, with assistance from Paul Jones, Shane Phillips and Cathy Craigie. Guwanyi presented the work of four photographers: two Aboriginal – Brenda L Croft and Michael Riley – and two non-Aboriginal – Roger Parton and Elaine Kitchener (now Elaine Pelot Syron) – and considered the important Aboriginal presence in Redfern, from first contact with non-Aboriginal people in the late 1700s through to 1996.

Interview with Brad Webb

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Dubbo, a country town in mid western NSW. My Dad comes from there and my Mum comes from Moree. My Dad is Wiradjuri and my Mum Kamilaroi.

How do you feel about your photographs being used in this exhibition on Redfern?

I think it is fantastic, I mean I’ve taken a lot of photographs about and around the community over a number of years and it is good to see those photographs being aired, especially if the Redfern community want them to be seen.

The photos you took in the early ‘80s of the Redfern Aboriginal Football Knockout – there are a lot of photos of families and football players warming up before a game which really captured the essence of the Knockout.

They are really just snapshots. I didn’t go out to try and compose these photos – they are just snapshots of people in a certain time and place.

Blackfellas love it when they have their photographs taken by people that they know. They pose up real big when you pull the camera out – especially family.

When you go into an Aboriginal person’s home, inside you see pictures on the drawer or the wall and they pull out their photo albums, you sit there for hours going through the photo albums and a lot of old people carry photographs around. Like I know some people, that friend of mine’s mother had this little photo album in her bag and if she hasn’t seen you for a while she’ll show you all the pictures she has taken.

Michael Riley with Brad Webb, Guwanyi: stories of the Redfern Aboriginal Community, exhibition catalogue, Sydney: Museum of Sydney, 1996, pp. 19–20.

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