Graham Miller

Playing the Man 

14 September > 15 October 2023

These playful and humorous images are a celebration of football and a wistful look at the past. Referencing bubble gum footy cards from the 1970’s and 80’s (and press images, including Rennie Ellis' iconic image of Robbie McGhie), Miller recreates himself as boyhood football heroes to explore issues of masculinity, identity and cultural difference.

Footy cards are used as a microcosm to reflect upon a country recently emerging out of the White Australia policy (it was legally abolished in 1973) - an assembly of predominantly white men, with some Indigenous players and almost no Asians. Aussie Rules in the 1970’s and ‘80’s exemplified traditional notions of masculinity- toughness, dominance, aggression, emotional stoicism, and suppression of any vulnerability or weakness. 

These values were worshipped in the boarding house Miller attended as a child, with boys trying to emulate their heroes. Straying from the script risked being picked on or suffer relentless bullying. Compared to today’s highly stylised and groomed celebrities on Instagram and social media, footy luminaries on cards from this period are refreshingly unmanicured. Larrikin moustachioed grins, dishevelled hair, hammed up poses and indifferent photography coalesce into comical portraits which defy the revered status with which these players were held. Hard men look surprisingly soft.

+ Read Essay by Dr Sean Gorman

IMAGES > [Above] Graham Miller, "Lethal" Leigh Matthews, 1978, 2019.
[Top] Graham Miller, “Choppy” Les Fong, 1981, [detail], 2019.
[Below] Graham Miller, "The Galloping Gasometer" Mick Nolan, 1979, 2019.
Images courtesy of the artist.

VIDEO > Courtesy of Peacock Visuals and Art on the Move. 

I came to boarding school in Perth aged ten in 1977. Hong Kong born, half-Chinese, English-accented and tiny. I was the smallest person in the boarding house, even though there were boys two years younger than me. I felt like I had been “beamed in” from another planet. It was a Sunday when I arrived, and the introduction to Australian ritual began immediately. World Series cricket on the telly and Countdown at 6pm with Pussyfoot and Leo Sayer. Come winter time, it was "The Winners" with Drew Morphett. The TV room packed with country boys waiting for Mark of the Day, Goal of the Day and Play of the Day. Malcolm Blight and Bernie “The Superboot” Quinlan, Kenny Hunter and "Lethal" Leigh Matthews, "The Flying Dutchman" and "The Flying Doormat". Hard men chasing an oval ball. It was tough to relate. These were the Aussie male heroes to aspire to. They didn’t look much like me. Luckily in the WAFL there was Les Fong, a well-respected and courageous footballer of Chinese heritage that I could pretend to be. I never got any good at football. I played hockey, or as the boys at school used to call it “dicky-whackers".

Graham Miller, 2023

Graham Miller is a Western Australian photographer living in Fremantle. Miller draws inspiration from diverse sources such as literature, cinema, painting, vintage bubble gum football cards, album covers and music to explore the Australian suburban and urban experience. His narrative driven series are known for the atmospheric and emotionally rich cinematic images of people and their environments. More recent artistic practice utilises humour and self-portraiture to investigate issues of Australianness and masculinity.

He has exhibited internationally and throughout Australia, including Haggerty Museum of Art (USA), the Southeast Museum of Photography (USA), Pingyao International Festival of Photography (China), Kaunas Photo (Lithuania), the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. He is included in the monographs 101 Contemporary Australian Artists and LOOK: Contemporary Australian Photography since 1980.

Linden Projects Space is generously supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, City of Port Phillip
and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. 

This project has been supported by The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries WA.

Project Partners: