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Michael Riley's portraits

Michael Riley's portraits A conversation with Linda Burney, Brenda Croft and Darrell Sibosado.
Video: 4 mins

Linda Burney, Brenda Croft and Darrell Sibosado share memories of Michael Riley and his photographic practice.

Music credit: Lee Rosevere

Linda Burney:

Looking at those pictures has taken me back to the early 80s when we were all so young, and really had no sense of the enormous lives that some of us would have. You know, it was a very different place for Aboriginal people in the 80s, but it was also a time when things were really starting to happen. I think what those photographs really demonstrate to me is a radical re-look at the way that Aboriginal people were being represented. 

I also look at every individual in the series – all of them that I know, some of them that I am still very much in contact with – and just think there was an alignment of the stars to bring us all together.

Michael had an enormous influence on both my children. He was their uncle, and a connection between Michael and my children is very strong, so it's a very, very special photograph. And I remember Michael getting us to pose for that photograph. And I had no idea that it would become such an enduring image of the beauty that he could make.

Brenda Croft:

The image that day that he did with me and Dad... I can still remember that Dad's shirt had a big coffee stain on it, where he'd tipped his coffee on him. It didn't take very long. He just came in, took photographs. And I just, I love that image. You know, we used to go along to all the exhibitions that were on, around the traps. And Dad was there because he was friends with Ace, and Dad's, not bragging, but he was just really proud. And he was going 'Oh, you know, you've got to come to Michael's opening tomorrow night because you'll see an image of me and Brenda in it. Then Dad sort of wanders off somewhere and Michael's [under his breath] "Brenda, Brenda, come 'ere, come 'ere" and I went over and said "What, what" and he said 'I haven't printed it. What'll I do?" And I just said, you know, "Well if you want to make an old man happy, you'd better print it. So we did. We spent the entire night printing it in Sandy Edwards' studio, printing it by hand. So we framed it and and – lucky for him – Dad bought it at the opening. 

Darrell Sibosado:

I actually love that image. For me, personally, it's one of the best photos I've seen of myself. It's the image that reflects me from that time, makes me think about it, you know, who I was at that time. 

So that day, I remember it was a bit organised. I kept saying yesterday I remember how disorganised Michael seemed. But this was a bit of a plan. But anyway, it was on the first floor, and we were in there, and it was quite simple. There was just him with a camera. He was so comfortable to be around. You know, even though he was quiet and everything, you knew it was a good quiet. It wasn't a quiet where he's thinking you're an idiot or anything like that. You know he's not thinking bad thoughts. And I just trusted him to do whatever he wants. So I just sat there and he took the photo and that's what came out.