He first exhibited in 1974 and was a member of Sydney’s “Yellow House” in the early 70’s along with other iconic Australian artists such as Garry Shead and Martin Sharp.
Lewis’ Face to Face portraiture series – ‘200 Faces for 200 Years’ is on permanent display at the National Museum of Australia, and his best known work, the Bondi portfolio, travelled around France for four years.
“Equipped with only one camera with wide-angle lens closely matching the human eye’s field of vision, Lewis’ photographs are, for the most part, artlessly direct portraits of the people either living in or visiting that most Australian of places, Bondi. Above all Lewis’ photographs celebrate the facts that Bondi for all its tacky charm belongs to the people…” Robert McFarlane, The Australian, June 1985
In contrast, in 1999 Lewis spent 16 months photographing the people and the reconstruction effort in East Timor. He learnt to speak Tetun, the local language, and travelled around the island extensively, returning home with a thousand reels of film in which he captured not the act of violence, but the aftermath, depicting the resilience of the Timorese people in his sensitive and spontaneous images.
“Photography for me is the art of documentation…I’m drawn to indigenous cultures…”
In his series ‘Kiribati: Putting a Face to Climate Change’ Lewis portrayed the plight of the people from the small Pacific nation of Kiribati, who are living literally on the very edge. Their country is under threat of storm surges, salination of fresh water, unpredictable weather and tidal increases and it is predicted that the nation has only 30-40 years left. Lewis’ photographs are at once intimate and challenging and they raise serious questions about the responsibilities of developed countries such as Australia in the climate change debate.
Lewis’ interest in conservation is evident from his early days. In the early 70s he made the experimental video ‘Bush Video’, and in 1977 he was a founder of Greenpeace Australia. His first direct action was against Australia’s last whaling station in Albany, Western Australia, in which he and fellow activists used Zodiacs to place themselves between the harpoons of three whale chaser ships and the sperm whales up to 30 miles offshore. The successful campaign led to an end to the slaughter of whales in Australia in 1978.
Nowdays, when not photographing or teaching, Lewis lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW. He says of his photos in the series ‘From The Ranges’ which he created in the local area, “…They are an attempt to ‘suss’ the bush, not as ‘operatic’ or majestic, but more the details of larger parts. Much is inspired by the mythology of Garangatch and Mirrigan, the two local indigenous ancestors, whose great chase brought the countryside into existence through their ferocious battle. I feel comfortable in the bush. I talk to animals and trees and rocks … the photographs you see here are their reply.”
‘Nerrimunga Spots 6 & 7’ are two black and white photographs from this series created especially for Berkeley Editions.