While scouting locations for their photography exhibition, Rising Sun,Kyra Herzfield almost missed a crucial part of the story.
Kyra, her husband Chris and Adnyamathanha and Wangkangurru artist Lavene Ngatokorua were driving through Yappala, located on Adnyamathanha Country – about 400km north of Adelaide.
Their group was travelling through a floodplain approaching a dirt road intersection when Lavene stopped them.
Just to the side of them was part of the songline for the Seven Sisters Dreamtime story, which is a creation tale depicted in their show. Songlines trace the landscape and carry knowledge, cultural values and wisdom for Aboriginal people.
“Unless you know country and understand it, you would have literally just drove past because you don’t look that way,” Kyra says.
“[This is] because of the way we’re trained and the way our [non-Indigenous] culture sort of drives this fast forward momentum rather than this settled, take your time, look around, process.”
Kyra, who is from California originally, found by digging deeper and honouring the culture of Aboriginal people and their relationship with country, you can have an even more fulfilling experience in a new place.
“Flinders is one of the most beautiful falls in the world, hands down, no doubt,” she says.
“But then being lucky enough to be driving along with Lavene, she’s pointing out the story.
“It takes a while because it’s a different way of seeing country, but you see country differently because you’re feeling country.”
Lavene explains this idea is something non-Indigenous Australians can learn from First Nations people, and it’s part of why she got behind the lens for Rising Sun, her collaborative exhibition that’s part of Tarnanthi festival.
“Enjoy, country can surprise you,” Lavene says. “If non-Aboriginal people had the opportunity to see through our First Nations eyes, they’ll see a different view.”
When Kyra finally stepped out of the car, she was taken aback to see more than just floodplain scrub, but instead a ridge that acted as a catwalk for their dancers to be photographed on.
“That’s where we got our most beautiful shots,” she says.
Lavene met Kyra’s husband, the late Chris Herzfield, in a lighting workshop pre-COVID and the two instantly connected. Rising Sun was Chris’ last project before he passed away in April 2023 after battling pancreatic cancer.
“When they first met, it was like watching two soul minds come together,” Kyra says about Lavene and Chris’ connection.
“What I remember is Chris coming home from their first coffee meeting, absolutely over the moon that he met this person who saw the world the same way he did through the lens.
“And I hadn’t seen him that excited in a very, very, very long time, if ever.”
Rising Sun is a collaborative photography exhibition that incorporates movement and poetry immersing viewers into four stories including the seven sisters and an ocean-based story.
Chris focussed on landscape photography and Lavene got behind the lens and introduced into that landscape what she sees as a First Nations person. The storytelling that results depicts themes of connection to country and resilience through truth-telling.
Chris’ memory lingered over opening night of Rising Sun as his final work made audiences face grief, hope and reconciliation.
One of the other stories they tell in the show addresses the colonial massacre of Adnyamathanha people in 1852. To honour the story, their group gathered on country before taking their images and Lavene shared the tale as it was told to her.
“I said there’s one thing that hasn’t changed here that bear witness to everything, which is the hills in the back of us that we see,” Lavene says.
“They’re still here and the country bounces back and if anything, that’s where we can get strength.”
While this was an emotional process for the First Nations artists on the project, it was important to Lavene as the lead artist to make sure they respected the story and heard the truth, but didn’t carry pain with them to their next stop.
“When we leave, we don’t laugh, we don’t talk, and one of the things I said, we have to leave the sorrow and the pain we feel here.
“We go to another place to get off of this road and we start talking, we leave it back there.
“That way, let that sort of sink in. Look back you can look at the beauty around you, the country and see how the country is alive.”
Rising Sun is being presented at the Light Room Studio in Light Square, where their photographs will fill 150sqm LED screens and the largest U-shaped projection wall of its kind in South Australia.
Lavene has done four distinct paintings for the project that illustrate each of the stories told throughout the show. The show is made up of photographs that captures women performing in the images, presented like a slideshow, with music and sound by Lavene’s son, Dre.
In the stories presented, there’s a mix of First Nations and non-First Nations performers and Kyra and Lavene explained this allowed a real exchange of ideas and performance skills.
“Using people in it, it wasn’t about colour, it’s about the story,” Lavene says.
Lavene says they discussed what they could learn from one another, and that a big part of the process of designing this show was respecting one another’s creativity and culture.
“I’ve met people in Kyra & Chris’ world, they’ve met people in my world… that sharing and talking I guess moves us towards an understanding of what we see as a better Australia and that is throughout what we’ve done in Rising Sun.
Kyra says that the truth-telling and connection Lavene and the First Nations artists on the project shared throughout their travels was an honour.
“Rising Sun wasn’t just about a collective of photos and going on to country, there was so much more,” Lavene says.
“There was the friendship, there’s that respect, there’s the mentoring, there’s a lot of other things just layer upon layer.”
Rising Sun is on show as part of Tarnanthi at the Light Room in Light Square from October 16–28 from 4pm–10pm, entry is free.