ABR Sidney Myer Fund Fellowship: 'Sound Bridges: A Profile of Gurrumul' by Felicity Plunkett

In April 2011 the Australian edition of Rolling Stone featured a cover photo of Yolngu multi-instrumentalist and singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. The headline ‘Australia’s most important voice’ crawls along the sleeve of Gurrumul’s pinstriped suit, while the band names The National and Primal Scream hover above his shoulder. In the midst of so much noise, the portrait by Sydney photographer Adrian Cook embodies a still silence. Across Gurrumul’s torso lies the body of his guitar, held by lithe-fingered hands. Both gesture and posture suggest reserve and quiet: a stark juxtaposition with the idea of a ‘national primal scream’ that adjacent cover lines scramble to invent.

The shoot was quiet and intimate. Cook uses an old Hasselblad camera on a tripod, which means that he is face-to-face with his subjects. His own face is not, as it generally would be in contemporary photography, obscured. Cook stood a foot or so away from Gurrumul throughout the shoot and touched his face gently to pose each shot, tilting his face or lowering his chin. The sense of unrushed harmony is evident in these intimate photos.

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