First Nations photographer, Marley Morgan, is quickly becoming one of Australia’s leading Indigenous photographers. Marley’s work shines a much-needed positive light on First Nations culture, particularly motherhood and fashion. We caught up with Marley as part of our On The Couch series to chat about her inspiration for getting into photography, her favourite gear to shoot with and the importance of showcasing and celebrating diversity.
A proud Wiradjuri and Gamilaraay woman, Marley is currently based on Gumbaynggirr Country, on the North Coast of New South Wales. Although keenly interested in taking photos from a young age and always owning some kind of camera, Marley didn’t become serious about photography until her first child was born. Like many new parents, she felt compelled to capture the unique story of this remarkable new human. But Marley was spurred to take her photography further when confronted in the hospital with negative imagery of Aboriginal women.
A self-taught photographer, Marley has relied heavily on online resources like YouTube and Instagram for learning photographic techniques. She has spent years experimenting with light and settings to develop her style and has eagerly taken on advice shared by friends in the photography industry.
Photo by Marley Morgan
Early on, Marley approached local businesses to get her name out and made herself known in the community. Instagram has also been a powerful platform for developing her profile, but most work comes to her organically through word-of-mouth. Marley now runs a full-time business working with both domestic and commercial clients to shine a spotlight on First Nations culture.
‘A highlight photography-wise was when we were going through the bushfires here on the mid-North coast. It was NAIDOC week about three or four years ago, and a local aboriginal dance group were dancing for rain, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it just started raining. And for me, being able to document something so special and so emotional is just a highlight, and it will always be my favourite photography moment.’
Over the years, Marley has become increasingly driven to photograph her culture's unique beauty and strength. Aboriginal motherhood and fashion are recurring themes throughout her work, with a strong emphasis on culture embedded in her style. Marley skillfully draws out a sense of pride and confidence from her subjects, celebrating their raw beauty and strength. A champion for representation, Marley uses her growing platform to elevate the position of indigenous women and promote diversity and inclusion within mainstream and social media outlets.
Two years ago, as part of the #VogueChallenge, Marley reimagined the cover of Vogue Australia and called for more representation of First Nations people in media and publications. Earlier this year, her goal was realised when First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) invited Marley to be part of a Shadow Program for the cover shoot of Vogue Australia’s May 2022 issue. The shoot was a collaboration between Vogue Australia and FNFD, featuring all Indigenous models and the work of First Nations stylists and designers. As a participant in the Shadow Program, Marley gained access to hands-on, invaluable industry experience and connections.
Photo by Marley Morgan
‘Working with other aboriginal women brings me so much joy; I feel very honoured to collaborate with such talented artists.’
Marley began her photography career with a Canon 1300D and found it a perfect beginner camera. Later she stepped up to the Canon 7D MkII, which she loved and used to build her business. About 18 months ago, Marley moved across to mirrorless with the Canon EOS R6 body and very recently purchased the Canon EOS R5 body. Now, she switches between the two mirrorless bodies, depending on what she’s shooting.
The highly versatile RF 24-105mm f/4 L lens is on her camera most of the time and is a favourite lens choice when out on country. Marley will often close down her f-stop to capture the depth and texture of the unique landscape. But if the light is low or she wants to shoot wide open, Marley will grab her ‘nifty fifty’ RF 50mm f/1.8 or the RF 85mm f/1.2 L lens to take advantage of their wider apertures. The RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L is next on her gear goal list for its combined focal length versatility and faster f-stop.
Photo by Marley Morgan
Natural light is Marley’s preference, and she harnesses it to great effect. Not one to shy away from lighting challenges, with the right location and her reflector, she can create dynamic images at any time, even in the harsh midday sun. But to cover all of her bases, Marley keeps a Canon 430 EX speedlight on hand in case the light dips too low.
‘I used to be afraid of shooting in harsh light, but now I love it.’
When possible, Marley will scout a location before a shoot to get a feel for the quality of light and how it bounces around. If working on commercial projects, she’ll create a mood board to flesh out ideas for colours and poses, which she can share with the creative team she’s working with so everyone’s on the same page.
Marley loves creating images in both black and white and colour, often choosing to add a little warmth and grain in post. In earlier days, she relied on presets when editing but has since developed a love for doing her own colour grading. Like shooting, she taught herself by watching YouTube videos on colour grading and trying new things in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Being a First Nations female photographer has presented Marley with a deeper layer of challenges to contend with while building her business. Fortunately, Blak Lens launched recently, an Indigenous collective of photographers and videographers of which Marley is now a member. The Australia-wide community offers members a platform to connect and provide each other with career and cultural support. The network is also an excellent directory resource for anyone looking to work with indigenous creatives.
Check out the full interview here to learn more about Marley and her beautiful work.
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