Rhett Wyman is a Palawa man and photographer for The Sydney Morning Herald. Together with journalist Ella Archibald-Binge, Rhett has been working on the Dalarinji Project, an initiative supported by the Judith Neilson Institute, which is examining important issues affecting First Nations Peoples.
We caught up with Rhett to find out more about the project, what it’s like working during the pandemic, and what most amateur photographers get wrong.
What made you want to be a photographer?
I was drawn to photography through skateboarding in my early teens. I used to spend hours at the skatepark, shooting on my sister’s Pentax MZ-60.
During high school I was able to study photography. I remember learning about American photographer Eddie Adams’s photo of the execution of Vietcong fighter Nguyen Van Lem in 1968 and how that single photograph changed a lot of people’s opinion about the Vietnam War.
“The power of photography to bring about social change was a big part of why I wanted to be a photographer.”
What’s your favourite photo from the Dalarinji Project? What’s the story behind it?
It’s a series of photos I took for a story about the Waterloo Creek massacre of January 26, 1838.
Ella and I travelled to Moree, in north-western NSW, where we met Kamilaroi elder Polly Cutmore, Dossy Tighe and Paul Spearim Jnr. They took us to what is believed to be the site of the Waterloo Creek massacre, where Polly’s direct ancestors were among the victims.
It was a special moment to be allowed to document Polly, Dossy and Paul returning to the site, which causes them a lot of grief and is evident within the photos.
How has the pandemic affected the way you go about your work?
Being in close contact with a variety of people on a daily basis has meant I have to be vigilant in practicing social distancing, wearing masks and disinfecting camera equipment.
A lot of the work I do is portraiture. Since the pandemic we’ve been asked not to take portraits indoors unless we have no other options.
I’ve had to be a bit more creative, shooting from outside, through doors and windows, or taking the subject outside to parks or onto the street.
In a world of smartphones, everyone is a photographer. What do most people get wrong when they take a photo?
I would say a lot of people tend to neglect using the entire frame, concentrating too much on the main subject and not paying attention to how the foreground and background influence the overall image.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a lack of diversity in the media. Is racism something you’ve encountered in your career?
I’ve been fortunate enough not to have encountered racism within organisations that I’ve worked for as a photographer. Although while I was studying photography, I worked in hospitality and witnessed racism quite frequently.
What can media organisation do to better support First Nations journalists and photographers?
“Media organisations need to include more First Nations journalists within their teams.”
Creating programs that mentor upcoming First Nations journalists, educating current employees on cultural standards and publishing more stories by First Nations journalists is key.
What are you currently working on/what’s next?
I’m working towards a project that investigates what it means to be Aboriginal, if you have been disconnected from country, family and culture.