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Message Sticks: Blak photo power

Keith Gallasch

In 1991 Tracey Moffat curated In Dreams, an exhibition of the photographs of Mervyn Bishop for the Australian Centre for Photography. A selection of personal shots and images taken for the Sydney Morning Herald (where Bishop worked for 17 years) and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, In Dreams was a potent portrayal of the achievements, struggles and everyday lives of Indigenous Australians documented in lucid black and white.

Flash Blak is another rare opportunity to see some of this work and the history it unfolds. It's a stage show in the manner of William Yang's autobiographical explorations. Yang directs Bishop using a similar, if more informal structure to his own works. A physical journey is embarked on and others are undertaken through exploring sets of photographs.

Yang and Bishop travel to the northern New South Wales homeland where the latter grew up, meeting numerous relatives on the way and encountering pockets of social despair.

Cutting across the trip are other strands—Bishop's frank account of his immediate family life (a difficult relationship with his daughter, pride in a son now performing with Bangarra Dance Theatre) and the death of his wife; his ancestry, emblematic of Indigenous history and rich cross-cultural intermarriage; and his growing engagement as a child with photography, inspired by his mother's striking ability with the camera.

Between these intersecting narrative lines are woven video images of the passing landscape as the photographers travel north, Drew Crawford's accompanying romantic minimalism evoking the pulse of the journey with elegaic empathy.

As Flash Blak draws to a close a sense of the power of inheritance grows in strength, particularly through Bishop's grandmother, with photographs of her morphing from adolescence to old age, all conveying pride and beauty. Flash Blak is a gentle, conversational account of a life in which pain, anger, despair and joy are heard between the lines and glimpsed in images.

Merv Bishop, Flash Blak, co-devisors Merv Bishop, William Yang, director William Yang, composer Drew Crawford, visual design Gus Weinberger, lighting Richard Montgomery; commissioned by Sydney Opera House; Playhouse

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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