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Young girl wearing a bunny mask and her mum taking a selfie outside


Contemporary Aboriginal photography

This exhibition is in the past.
28 August 2021 - 16 May 2022
Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery, level 4

Viewpoints: Contemporary Aboriginal photography profiles the work of three contemporary Aboriginal photographers working in Queensland; Michael Aird, Jo-Anne Driessens and Naomi Hobson.

At the core of each photographer’s work is a desire to involve Aboriginal people in the creation and custodianship of contemporary stories for future generations.

The camera is the tool of a dominant society-the powerful photographing the oppressed. But if you look past the props and the awkward poses, the personality and strength of the individuals emerge.

Michael Aird, Portraits of Our Elders


Michael Aird

Michael is an Aboriginal historian, anthropologist and photographer. He has created an extensive archive of research and photographs that have formed the basis of numerous publications and exhibitions.  

Michael’s photographs focus on peoples’ achievements and celebrate everyday life. He has spoken about initially being inspired by the work of National Geographic, but later becoming more interested in the “stories that were missing”. Michael began to observe the aspects that were important to him versus what were important to an art gallery and began to fill these “gaps” with his own photography practice.  

Michael, who is the Director of the UQ Anthropology Museum, founded the independent publishing house Keeaira Press in 1996. With a strong focus on photography, it predominantly publishes books on Aboriginal art and culture.

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Cyril Williams visiting his traditional country in the Beaudesert District
Children playing on a merry-go-round in Coominya, Queensland

Jo-Anne Driessens

Jo-Anne Driessens is a descendant of the Koa people, with historical connections to Cherbourg (Barambah), Woorabinda and Yarrabah communities, who was adopted into a white Brisbane family. Jo-Anne is a practicing photographer with 25 years’ experience predominantly working in south east Queensland and more recently as an arts worker with City of Gold Coast and as a curator with Placemakers. 

Photographing Aboriginal community members and working with State Library’s historical collection led Jo-Anne to discover her ancestors and reconnect with many of her living relatives from Cherbourg and Brisbane.

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Naomi Hobson 

Naomi Hobson is a Southern Kaantju/Umpila woman who lives in Coen, a remote town in the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. A multidisciplinary artist, she is inspired by her direct environment and her works express her ongoing connection to Country and her ancestors’ ties and relationships with their traditional lands.  

Naomi’s photographic series Adolescent Wonderland (2019) aims to celebrate the dynamism and uniqueness of the young people in Coen. Her work captures how the young people are searching for ‘how to be’ in this world—placed as they are within a rich traditional cultural environment and yet firmly in the twenty-first century.

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Girl walking down the street carrying an inflatable flamingo
Tommy from Noosa, 1900-1910


The images in this historical section are typical of the countless photographs of Aboriginal people held in many archival collections. 

These historical photographs continue to be a source of value to many Aboriginal people today, important historical information contained within about ancestors passed.  

More recently, there have been ongoing efforts, including by Michael and Jo-Anne to discover more about the people in these photographs and to give voice and agency.  

State Library welcomes any further insights and information about the photographs in this exhibition.

Viewpoints - the photographer's perspective

In celebration of State Library’s exhibition Viewpoints: Contemporary Aboriginal photography we invite you to view this conversation with renowned photographers Michael Aird, Jo-Anne Driessens and exhibition curator Georgia Walsh. Listen as they unpack the core of their work - the desire to involve Aboriginal people in the creation and custodianship of contemporary stories for future generations. This event is hosted by Dr Bianca Beetson, Director, Indigenous Research Unit, Griffith University.

Filmed onsite at State Library of Queensland on 26 October 2021

Collection highlights

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Ms. Daley leaning against a wall holding on to a flash black bike
Attendees sitting on the grass at King George Square enjoying the DAR Indigenous Art and Culture Festival


Students will explore photography and consider the viewpoints of photographers and subjects through the themes of representation, identity, and agency. 

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Gatherings book by Demozay Marion

Marion Demozay

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Look At This If You Love Great Photography graphic book cover.

Look At This If You Love Great Photography
Gemma Padley

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Up Close book cover with photo of First Nations people on a beach.

Up Close
Michael Aird

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Brisbane Blacks book by Michael Aird

Brisbane Blacks
Michael Aird 

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Culture is Life by Wayne Quilliam

Culture is Life
Wayne Quilliam

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From the blog

Photo of six magazine covers, all 2020 and 2021 issues of Australian Photography magazine
Want to take better photos? Explore photography magazines at State Library
Are you a keen photographer? Do you love learning how to improve your landscape, portrait, wildlife or night photography? Or is macro photography your passion? No matter what style of photography you love, State Library has magazines and other resources to inform and inspire.
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Out of the Port - Photography and Aboriginal Identity in South-East Queensland
In today's Out of the Port lunchtime lecture author, freelance curator and anthropologist Michael Aird discussed the importance of historical photographs in enabling Aboriginal people to assert their connection to community and country. In his presentation Michael explored the various research methods he used to identify aboriginal people in images going back to the 1860s taken in the South East Queensland region and key photographers operating out of Brisbane.Michael's pioneering research in the area of Aboriginal familial, cultural, and social history, as revealed in the photographic record, can be further explored in publications such as Portraits of our Elders and Brisbane Blacks. In 1996 he established Keeaira Press, an independent publishing house.This talk was presented by the State Library in association with the Department of Environment and Resource Management Heritage Branch. Out of the Port lectures occur on the third Wednesday of every month in Auditorium 2, level 2, State Library of Qld. Sessions are recorded and made available through the State Library's website.Thanks very much to Michael Aird and to all who attended this tremendous session.
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Sketch of Aboriginal Australian Dundalli. Sketch of Dundalli made by Silvester Diggles, 5 December, 1854.
Dundalli: Aboriginal resistance hero
Dundalli was a Turrwan (Yuggara word for great man/leader) who was educated in Aboriginal law. (Kerwin 2007: pg 9). He originally belonged to the Bunya group, but for years had been associated with the groups on the coast, over whom he possessed great influence. (J. J. Knight; 1895: pg 336) Dundalli was chosen as a Turrwan to conduct restorative justice for the shooting and poisoning of Aboriginal people by settlers in colonial Brisbane. For over 10 years starting from 1843, Dundalli attacked settlers, conducted robbery causing serious bodily harm and killed livestock. Aboriginal people saw him as a resistance leader, but the new European settlers saw him as a criminal and murderer. However, Dundalli was only fulfilling his role as a leader within a warrior society ‘warfare is that of reciprocity: if a harm has been done to an individual or a group…they must repay…by an injury that at least equals the one they have suffered’ (Mulvaney 1989: pg3). Encounters in place, outsiders and Aboriginal Australians 1606-1985 by Derek John Mulvaney (available as an eBook on State Library's OneSearch Catalogue) sums up the settler violence and Aboriginal retaliations as a "suffocation of conscience" that lead to a "history of indifference".
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