In 1847 the English-born photographer Douglas Kilburn opened Melbourne’s first commercial photographic studio. As a way of attracting attention to his business, he took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people from the area around Melbourne. These daguerreotypes, three of which the Gallery owns, are the earliest surviving photographs of Australia’s Indigenous people and are a highlight of the collection.
Although Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. Today, early photographs have become important as signs of survival and continuity to Aboriginal people, particularly artists, who often make reference to them in their own works.