Elaine Pelot Syron is a committed documentary photographer who has dedicated herself over the last four decades to the chronicling of Indigenous stories – an area where few photographers were working in the 1970s. More recently she has passionately and tirelessly crusaded for the preservation and recognition of the Keeping Place Collection, an extraordinary collection of Indigenous art assembled by Syron and her husband, artist Gordon Syron, over many years.
Elaine Pelot Syron was brought up in the small town of Manatee in Florida, USA. Here, the Civil Rights Movement was a powerful force. In 1963, she graduated from high school. The Vietnam War was on and two years later, she marched in a university organized protest against the war; she was jeered and spat on. In 1971 she immigrated to Sydney with her two children, when Australia needed high school teachers – she taught English & History
Elaine’s photography spans decades and provides an insight into communities in and around Sydney. Syron has been working with the Aboriginal Community to document important people and events for over forty years. She describes her work as ‘delicate and at the same time historical’. She has spent a significant amount of time working with Aboriginal Artists to document their work. Her collection of prints show many of the early years of modern day cultural institutions like Bangarra.
“My first rally in the 1970’s was at NSW Parliament House, when my students asked me to join them. Hundreds of Aboriginal people stood with their children, with hand-written signs asking for Land Rights. There was no violence, no microphones, and as far as I was concerned; no response from the government. I didn’t have my camera, and to my astonishment there was not a single camera there. I raced home to get my camera, but on my return all was over. I felt that history was not being recorded. After talking with the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Legal service, and the Aboriginal Housing Company I began to document Aboriginal people. These people were working, giving press conferences, studying and achieving.”
In the 70s and 80s Elaine owned camera shops across Sydney and during that time she photographed the local communities in Redfern, Darlinghurst, Mudgee and Kings Cross. Her collections also include depictions of the tattoo community. Syron also has some unique portraits of members of the S&M community. These photographs are all privileged views into close-knit communities that make her collection a valuable record of social history in Australia.
Elaine Pelot-Syron’s Photographic collections
Syron has spent a significant amount of time working with Aboriginal Artists to document their work. Her collection of prints show many of the early years of modern day cultural institutions. Her prints include;
- Shots of Aboriginal Performing Artists of Australia
- Images of Aboriginal Musicians of Australia
- A variety of photographs of Aboriginal Protests, Events, Celebrations, & Ceremonies History happening
- Photographs from her 1989 exhibition ‘A Decade of Dance and The Birth of Bangarra’, exhibition opened by Minister Al Grassby
- Documentary record of the history of ‘The Keeping Place’ collection which used to held in the Gordon Syron Aboriginal Art Gallery and Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum. Works include pictures of artworks and events.
Syron has been working with the Aboriginal Community to document important people and events for over forty years. She describes her work as ‘delicate and at the same time historical’. Her collection of historically and socially significant prints includes;
- Photographs taken in 1977 while she was photographer for Koori Bina, Aboriginal community newspaper Glebe and later became the ‘AIM’ community newspaper edited by Dr Roberta Sykes, (now deceased)
- Work from her 1986 exhibition at the Sydney Australian Museum, ‘The Urban Aboriginal’, opened by Mum Shirl (Shirley Smith), now deceased & Gary Foley, now Professor/Dr of History in Melbourne.
- Prints from her travels to remote and regional areas of Australia during the 1988 Bicentennial, many of which have never been seen
- Selections of photographs from events in 1972 including the Tent Embassy and Bangarra dance
Elaine’s Darlinghurst Collection contains 35 years of photographs showing what an exciting an vibrant place Darlinghurst is. It includes;
- Landscapes of the area, the hospital, Oxford St.
- Portraits of local personalities and artists
- Photographic records of opening and official closing of nightclubs
The Kings Cross collection has photographs stretching back for 40 years documenting the changing face of Kings Cross. Syron married in Kings Cross in my home in 1980. She had 2 photographic shops on Darlinghurst Rd., a Kodak one at one end, across from Roslyn St., which used to be across from “Les Girls” near the fountain and a Fuji lab near the large Coke sign at the other end. It was here that Elaine became friends with the local tattooists and owners of the strip clubs, and local workers, and many celebrities like “Carmen”.
- Landscapes and portraits, including urban shots of strip shows, Bourbon & Beefsteak Bar, and street races and festivals.
- Portraits of the famous Maori drag-queen, ‘Carmen’, now deceased. Some of these images were used in Carmen’s biography.
- Images use in an exhibition ‘On The Cross’ curated by Josef Lebovic in 1991
- An in depth study of the life of Lou Norwood, drug dealer, now deceased. This fascinating record contains tape cassettes and photos and drawings of Lou’s story over a 10 year period since 1994
For 21 years, Syron has been photographing both the daily lives and celebratory moments of the Jewish Community and Jewish migrants. Syron’s husband at the time was Jewish and at one time was the President of the Emanuel Synagogue. Her photographs include;
- Images of holidays and ceremonies, circumcision, visit by Dali Lama,
- Photographs and portraits from the 1990s documenting the arrival and finding jobs, etc. of the Russian Jews, many came by plane and ship. Syron met them and documented their struggle to fit into Australian society and family portraits were done in Sydney and Melbourne.
- Documentation of a group of Sydney Holocaust Survivors for 21 years.
- Israel trip and Israeli officials visiting to Australia.
- Images from an unfinished book on Cantor Michael Deutsch, Holocaust Survivor, now deceased.
Elaine’s collection includes over 29 years’ worth of images documenting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex community (LGBTQI), including Gay and Lesbian young people and children.
- Records of events from early 1980s when it was still illegal in Tasmania to be gay. This includes a history of meetings, protests, fund-raising, aids-awareness movement, Gay & Lesbian Counselling Service, Sea Horse Club
- Portraits from many Sleaze Balls
- A stunning 26 years unbroken documentation of the Mardi Gras Parade in Sydney and preparing, rehearsing, and making of floats.
- Images for the book ‘How to be A Drag’, by Hilary or Rob, professional make-up Artist 1992-2012, a step-by-step guide to make up for drag queens of Australia.
Landscapes and Animals
Syron also has a small body of work of Australia including
- first pandas to live in Australia
- Travelling circus touring animals.
A collection of photographs by Syron of Mudgee in the late 70s & 80s. The collection includes portraits & oral cassette tapes of 11 of the winemakers & farmers of Mudgee:
Elaine’s ex-husband owned a small boutique winery with partners for 13 years, called Amberton Wines. For many years, I photographed the winemaking processes, cellar door, behind the scenes trauma, landscape, picking of and crushing of grapes, etc.
Native Americans Living in Australia
Elaine has a unique collection documenting the lives of Native Americans living in Australia, including;
- Portraits of people living and working as artists
- Portraits of other Native Americans in Australia, going back to late 1980s.
The Redfern Community collection contains many photographs by Syron of significant events in Redfern, Sydney. The collection includes;
- 36 years of photographs of events at Eveleigh Street and The Block .
- An annual record of the now famous Aboriginal Diggers March on ANZAC Day, since 2006
- Historical images of a changing and vibrant white community of politics, churches, and university events.
Syron has a unique collection of photographs of the S&M community from the 1990s
Tattoo Artists Community
- Images from national conferences, bikie shows, gay photo competitions and tattoo parlours,
- Photographs from her collection ‘outback tattoo’ taken while travelling
- Images of Ian Shaw from an unpublished book on his story of why his body and face are covered in tattoos, Melbourne 1994-2015
Land rights rallies in the 1970s http://ourmob.org.au/land-rights-in-image
Land Rights Photography of Elaine Syron https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=
Exhibition at Fairfield NSW 2016 www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVPPQVtUnEM
©2016 Gordon Syron & Elaine Pelot-Syron – all right reserved