Picturing World Cultures: Wayne Quilliam - Australia / Tasmania


“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”Robert Frank

Australian photographer Wayne Quilliam used to consider his camera as a tool, but today it’s become his “companion.” This is just one of the inspiring takeaways from our chat for the new monthly podcast series, “Picturing World Cultures.”

Above photograph © Wayne Quilliam

Listen in as Quilliam describes his journey—from growing up on the island state of Tasmania knowing little about his indigenous roots, to gaining a fascination with culture while traveling with the Royal Australian Navy, to his current roles as a leading indigenous imagemaker and cultural ambassador.

When it comes to making pictures, Quilliam differentiates between an older approach of maintaining photographic objectivity and more contemporary methods for immersing yourself in a story to have a stronger sense of connection with subjects, and a better understanding of what that story will become.

We also discuss aboriginal cultural protocols, and Quilliam offers surprising insights into the unique relationship between culture and skin color in Australia’s indigenous communities.

Stay to the end for tips about photographing culturally sensitive subjects by listening for images rather than seeing them, and Quilliam’s following parting advice:

  • Know who you are as a person and what your role is within the journey.

  • Make sure you’re as informed as possible about your subject and the who, what, how, why, when, and where of the story and end goal.

  • And most important, offer total respect to both the land and people as part of your photographic process.

If you haven’t already listened, check out all of the episodes of our Picturing World Cultures podcast series here.

Guests: Wayne Quilliam

Aboriginal girl with painted face during NAIDOC Week 2020
Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, viewed from a drone
Portrait of Aboriginal Elder
Dr. Marika holding Marley Hosch at the National Apology event, 2008
Aboriginal men playing sports
Aboriginal boy shooting hoops
Song Man
Image © Wayne Quilliam
Aboriginal girls on a trampoline
Aboriginal boys boxing
Smoking, funeral, burial, and cleansing ceremonies play an important role in Australian indigenous culture, and they differ greatly throughout the country.
Image © Wayne Quilliam
Indigenous dancers, Solomon Islands
Traditional burning plays a significant cultural role in the regeneration of land.
Footprints in the sand
Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, Davenport
Aboriginal reading initiative
Infusing modern fashion with the spirit of indigenous peoples
Transformative melding of culture into art
Wayne Quilliam at his digital interactive experience “Connection”
Book Cover for the second edition of Culture is Life

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:20: Distinctions between Australia’s different First Nations communities, and cultural differences between the continent of Australia and its island state of Tasmania.
  • 6:50: Quilliam’s first exposure to photography during his time in the Royal Australian Navy, and his early work as an itinerant photographer for the Koori Mail.
  • 14:12: The construct of culture and skin color in Australia and how this works within indigenous cultures.
  • 20:40: Making decisions about whether pictures remain in color or will be converted to black-and-white, Quilliam’s go-to Nikon gear, and his transition to mirrorless.
  • 25:30: Connectivity issues when photographing in remote areas, solar blankets and solar-powered trailers, and being prepared with lots of backups.
  • 28:38: Episode Break
  • 30:51: Quilliam’s most significant assignment as official photographer for the Australian National Apology in 2008, and the picture that came to define this event.
  • 34:10: Aboriginal cultural protocols for honoring the deceased, protocols for men’s business and women’s business, and tips for photographing indigenous celebrations and ceremonial dances.
  • 43:34: The dynamics of photographing elders with respect and taking the time for a portrait subject to be open to your presence.
  • 47:33: Photographic situations that are problematic to make, due to cultural sensitivities.
  • 50:50: Quilliam’s work with other indigenous cultures and a spiritual connection to land and sea that flows across the planet to connect different cultures.
  • 56:20: Quilliam answers our PWC Visual Questionnaire.

Guest Bios:

Wayne Quilliam is an indigenous imagemaker, storyteller, and cultural advisor based in Melbourne, Australia. For more than 30 years, Quilliam has explored the subtleties of aboriginal identity, focusing on the lives and experiences of first nations peoples in contemporary Australian culture. Significant awards include a 2022 National Photographic Portrait Prize, British Journey of Photography Decade of Change Award, and Koori Heritage Trust City of Melbourne Art Award, 2009 NAIDOC Indigenous Artist of the Year award, a 2008 Human Rights Media Award, and Walkley Award for photojournalism, among others. Quilliam 's role as Creative Director and Cultural Advisor for “Connection,” the world's largest Indigenous digital interactive experience, saw him travel the globe curating the works of rural, remote, and urban artists to feature in this ever-evolving show. He was also part of Sydney's 2022 Vivid Festival. Quilliam has created and curated hundreds of exhibitions throughout the world, and has been published in more than 1,000 magazines, books and newspapers.

Stay Connected:

Wayne Quilliam Website: https://aboriginal.photography/

Wayne Quilliam Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/waynequilliam/

Wayne Quilliam Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AustralianAboriginalPhotography/

Wayne Quilliam Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/waynequilliamphotography/#

Wayne Quilliam book Culture is Life: https://www.hardiegrant.com/

Wayne Quilliam interactive exhibit “Connection”: https://www.thelumemelbourne.com/connection

Senior Creative Producer and Host: Jill Waterman

Technical Producer: Mike Weinstein

Executive Producer: Yermy Weiss

Editorial Director: Shawn C Steiner

Theme Music: Gabriel Richards


Great content. This series is unique. Thank you very much, Jill! :-)

Jill did an amazing job! Loved listening to her voice and The series is going to be amazing. Was inspired by Wayne Quilliam’s advice, “know who you are as a person and what your role is  within the journey.” I am looking forward to the next podcast