Journeys North: Robert Mercer’s photographs focus on local culture

 
digital-blog-Back of cottages,Mantaka 1987_164_014_001
Robert Mercer, Ireland/Australia b.1949 / Back of cottages, Mantaka, NQ (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
digital-blog-Fisherman Waiting Cape York 1987_164_016_001
Robert Mercer, Ireland/Australia b.1949 / Fishermen waiting, Coconut Island, Torres Strait (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1987 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Robert Mercer’s photographs feature Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in far north Queensland, focusing on local culture, work places and events. Following is his artist statement from the original ‘Journeys North’ exhibition.

These photographs emanate from two trips I made to northern regions of Queensland. In September 1986, I visited Yarrabah Aboriginal mission, Cairns, Mantaka and Laura. I returned in January and February 1987 visiting Kowanyama Aboriginal mission and the Torres Strait Island, which included Thursday Island, Coconut Island, Yorke Island and Murray Island.

My initial concern was to photograph the life and culture of aboriginal and Islander people, although it wasn’t that simple. What I found was confusion. The remnants of a rich and vital foundation kept alive by the elders and spoilt by European/ Western intrusion and manipulation. Consequently the images reflect something of this predicament.

digital-blog-Young Dancers Cape York 1987_164_005_001
Robert Mercer, Ireland/Australia b.1949 / Young dancers, Kuranda, Laura Dance Festival, Cape York (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1987 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
digital-blog-Girl Swimming Yarrabah 1987_164_022_001
Robert Mercer, Ireland/Australia b.1949 / Girl swimming Yarrabah, NQ (from ‘Journeys north’ portfolio) 1986 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

In the years leading up to 1988, the Galley commissioned six photographers to produce a portfolio on the theme of community life in Queensland entitled ‘Journeys North’. Their images looked at attitudes to Australian community life, and the unique qualities of the Queensland lifestyle, land and environment. Last exhibited January 1988 it is an ideal time to re-examine this portfolio which highlights how Queensland has changed in the intervening 28 years since the commission.

With the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, the Gallery commissioned photographers who were long term residents of Queensland or had strong associations with the state. Over an eighteen month period Graham Burstow, Lin Martin, Robert Mercer, Glen O’Malley, Charles Page and Max Pam travelled to different regions of the state, documenting social, cultural and environmental diversity.

Revisit our selection of this portfolio until 3 July at the Queensland Art Gallery and re-examine the subjects each photographer examined and reflect on their relevance today. Queensland has, of course, changed in myriad ways in the intervening years, however ‘Journeys North’ provides an intriguing and enduring visual record of some of the people and places that have helped define this State.

Journeys North revisited
Queensland Art Gallery
20 February – 3 July 2016