"I saw every picture. I looked into the faces of all those people. It was, so sad, in viewing the past and the racist treatment of Indigenous people. I started questioning the photographer's role, the influence of the image in society and its persuasive power. It changed my life and the way I viewed and made pictures. This misrepresentation of Australia's first nation people became a lifelong pursuit of providing insight into a tragic past and providing a profound, in-depth personal interpretation rooted in his Aboriginal experience."
When it comes to picture-making, documentary photographer Ricky Maynard has a belief that rings true. It is something that continues to guide this process. “A really good portrait is the result of an intimate conversation between two people,” says Maynard. What has also become an important element in his photographs is, “recognising the existence of struggle beneath the image surface."
Through his considered professional practice, Maynard thinks deeply about photog raphy. He is a lifelong student of the photographic medium and a master storyteller who is driven by the importance of the subject matter and the need to share the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia with others.
It is important to him that Aboriginal people see themselves in his photographs. Maynard is passionate about the materiality of the artform; he is process driven, collabo- rative and engaging.
He is influenced by the work of leading figures in the photographic medium who changed and challenged the way we appreciate this art form. Pioneers such as Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), Lewis Hine (1874–1940), Paul Strand (1890–1976), Dorothea Lange (1895–1965), Group f/64 members including Ansel Adams (1902–1984), Edward Weston (1886 – 1958), Walker Evans (1903–1975) as well as Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015) who was a lecturer of Maynard’s during his time at the International Centre of Photography in New York in 1990.
His work is held in numerous national and state gallery collections, and he has exhibited nationally and internationally. Maynard has also been the recipient of various awards throughout his professional practice including the Mother Jones International Documentary Award, 1994, an Australian Human Rights Award for Photography, 1997 and the Kate Challis RAKA Award, 2003.
Since the mid-1980s, Maynard has documented various cultural practices, stories and histories that remain vitally important to Aboriginal identity. He has also examined sites of occupation and contact, and issues relating to social justice and native title. His images often bring the human story of these issues to the viewer’s attention. This human- ness has been a fundamental aspect of his work and has provided his audiences with a deeper engagement with various Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.
Maynard undertakes his photographic work with a profound sense of responsibility towards cultural integrity, honesty and truth in picture-making by actively engaging with the people and communities he documents. He inherited this during his time as a trainee photographer at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra. Working with historical images of Aboriginal people in the institute’s digital collection, he began to question the role of photography and the powerful way it frames not just a culture but also a people. Maynard has continued to work and develop his practice within this ethical framework.
Maynard’s photographs take viewers on a journey of understanding the unique rela- tionships Australia has with this country’s First Peoples and to question how the photo- graphic lens has historically framed those relationships. This includes the colonial gaze that dominated much of the studio portraiture of Aboriginal people throughout the colonial period up until the 1950s and the inherent power imbalance at play.
Maynard was born in 1953 in Launceston, Tasmania, and is a member of the Ben Lomond and Cape Portland peoples. While he places himself firmly within the tradition of documentary photographer as social activist, his subjects are always strongly connected to his own life and upbringing as an Aboriginal person. The series that established him as a photographer, The Moonbird People, 1985-88, documents the annual tradition of muttonbirding on the windswept islands of the Bass Strait, situated between the southeast Australian mainland and Tasmania. The Maynard family were one of 13 Aboriginal families living on the islands, and practising mutton birding, in 1847. The harvesting of moonbirds for their oil, meat and feathers is an annual cultural tradition that continues today. It is clear from the easy way his subjects carry themselves that they are comfortable in front of Maynard’s camera as they go about their business. “They knew they were involved in the process, and they trusted me,” he says of this series.
Keith Munro - Curator, MCA
Australian Art Collector Magazine Jul-Sep 2023