Australian ProPhoto

Joyce Evans OAM – 1929-2019

- - Alison Stieven-Taylor

What do you say about someone who spent more than 70 years immersed in the world of photograph­y? I could write about her love affair with the camera which began when she was given a Leica in her late teens. Or how prolific she was, her studies of landscapes, the fascinatio­n in photograph­ing road kill, or taking portraits of notable Australian­s. Then there was the photograph­y gallery in Richmond, Melbourne, also a bookshop which she opened in the 1970s. Joyce was keen to use the space to show both establishe­d and emerging artists – a young Bill Henson, while studying at Prahran, was an early exhibitor. Back then photograph­y galleries didn’t make money (some will argue nothing has changed). Joyce blew her father’s inheritanc­e, closed shop and moved onto the next thing.

Yet what people who met Joyce Evans want to share are anecdotes about their encounter with this force of nature – some raucously hilarious, others deeply touching, and then those that can’t be published!

Most people I spoke with recall a single moment they consider quintessen­tial Joyce. Marianne Harris from Degree South, a photo collective of which Joyce was a member, says “I have a fabulous photo of Joyce when she was found after the tsunami [Boxing Day

2004] wearing a bed sheet she had fashioned into a toga and red lipstick and nail varnish on her fingers and toes... she was unique”.

My own encounters with Joyce are vivid too. Like the time she invited me to dinner at her home in Toorak, a sweeping property that was a living art gallery. While dinner was supposedly cooking, she interrogat­ed me! Once satisfied that I knew what I was talking about, she announced with a flourish that dinner was served. The only problem was she’d forgotten to turn the oven up. It was the strangest experience to sit there watching her crunching on virtually raw potatoes and chatting as if nothing was amiss. That was part of her charm: to ignore the pedestrian, especially when there were more interestin­g things to engage with.

Joyce’s exuberant personalit­y touched many establishe­d photograph­ers and novices. Known for her forthright attitude, Joyce didn’t dance around niceties and her bluntness in a sometimes obsequious industry was as refreshing as it was brutal. In the same way she gave her opinion, she also offered her time and expertise. Joyce was a staunch supporter of local galleries such as Magnet which, shortly before her passing, named a women’s photo-graphy group in her honour, the Joyce Evans Circle. She was also aware of the OAM she would be given, officially announced in June this year. It is fitting that one Queen awards another: Joyce was most definitely the doyenne of photograph­y in Melbourne, a matriarch who fiercely protected her brood.

Joyce once said that photograph­y was

“so powerful that it transcende­d convention­al boundaries”. So did you, my dear.

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