‘I would like to pay respects to the First Nations and Indigenous Peoples around the world’.
Elaine Pelot Syron’s Biography
Elaine Pelot Syron is a committed documentary photographer who has dedicated herself over the last four decades to the chronicling of the Indigenous stories – from the early days of Aboriginal Dance movement, to land rights and deaths in custody protests, to Aboriginal artists, to the Redfern community to Arnhem Land. She also has significant collections of photographs spanning decades of the GLBTQI community, Kings Cross, the Tattoo community, the Reclaim the Night protest, the Jewish community, Darlinghurst, sex workers, Anzac Day, Australia/Invasion Day, Mudgee, S&M, the Bicentennial, Native Americans living in Australia, protests against circuses using animals, gun control rallies, graffiti, nudes and landscapes. More details are available below about each of these collections.
Elaine Pelot Syron was brought up in the small town of Manatee in Florida, USA. Here, the Civil Rights Movement was a powerful force. In 1963, she graduated from high school. The Vietnam War was on and two years later, she marched in a university organized protest against the war where she was jeered and spat on. In 1971 she immigrated to Sydney with her two children, when Australia needed high school teachers – she taught English & History.
“My first rally in the 1970’s was at NSW Parliament House, when my students asked me to join them. Hundreds of Aboriginal people stood with their children, with hand-written signs asking for Land Rights. There was no violence, no microphones, and as far as I was concerned, no response from the government. I didn’t have my camera, and to my astonishment there was not a single camera there. I raced home to get my camera, but on my return all was over. I felt that history was not being recorded. After talking with the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Legal service, and the Aboriginal Housing Company I began to document Aboriginal people. These people were working, giving press conferences, studying and achieving.”
She later married a Jewish doctor, and started documenting the Jewish community – particularly Russian Jewish immigrants. During this time she was known as Elaine Pelot Kitchener. With Dr Kitchener she had another two children, and eventually it turned out that all four of her children were gay/lesbian/queer – which is how she started documenting the gay and lesbian community. They owned photo shops, including in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst which peaked her interest in these communities as well. Syron thoroughly documented all of the communities she found herself connected with, becoming a part of them in the process.
More recently she has passionately and tirelessly crusaded for the preservation and recognition of the Keeping Place Collection, an extraordinary collection of Indigenous art assembled by Syron and her husband, artist Gordon Syron, over many years.
Syron’s photographs are all privileged views into close-knit communities that make her collection a valuable record of social history in Australia.
Elaine Pelot Syron’s photographic collections
All the works on this website are copyright of the Artist, Elaine Pelot Syron, please seek permission for use. Please note that images and names of deceased Indigenous people are contained within these collections and photographs. ‘I would like to follow cultural protocol. If you would like an image of yourself or a family member taken down, please contact me.’
Syron has been working with the Aboriginal Community to document important people and events for over forty-five years. Her collection of historically and socially significant prints includes:
- Aboriginal Dance including NAISDA and AIDT from 1978 onwards and Bangarra from 1989 when it started.
- Mum Shirl and the Redfern community from 1977 onwards.
- Protest movements since 1972 including the Tent Embassy, Aboriginal Deaths In Custody, Land Rights, Invasion Day, and since 2006, a yearly record of the now famous Aboriginal Diggers march.
- Remote and regional areas of Australia during the 1988 Bicentennial.
- Aboriginal artists and musicians of Australia.
- The history of ‘The Keeping Place’ collection including the Gordon Syron Aboriginal Art Gallery and Black Fella’s Dreaming Museum. Works include pictures of both artworks and events.
- Aboriginal Portraits – 1975 onwards.
- Syron also has a large collection of tape recordings of interviews with and by Mum Shirl from 1972 onwards.
LGBTQI, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Community and Gay and Lesbian young people and children.
Elaine’s collection includes over 29 years’ worth of images documenting the LGBTQI Community. Her work includes;
- Records of events from early 1980s when it was still illegal in Tasmania to be gay. This includes a history of meetings, protests, fund-raising, the aids-awareness movement, the Gay & Lesbian Counselling Service, and the Sea Horse Club.
- A stunning 26 years unbroken documentation of the Mardi Gras Parade in Sydney including preparing, rehearsing, and making of floats.
- Portraits from many Sleaze Balls.
- Images for the book (as yet unpublished) ‘How To – Be A Drag’, by Hilary/Rob, Professional Make-up Artist 1992-2012, a step-by-step guide to make up for drag queens of Australia.
For over 26 years, Syron has been documenting the Tattoo Community which she felt was a ‘neglected area and deserved documentation’. Her works include;
- Images from national conferences, bikie shows, gay photo competitions and tattoo parlours,
- Photographs from her collection ‘outback tattoo’ taken while travelling
- Images of Ian Shaw from an unpublished book on his story of why his entire body and face are covered in tattoos, Melbourne 1994-2015
- the Lone Wolf Group
The Kings Cross collection has photographs stretching back for 40 years documenting the changing face of Kings Cross. She had two photographic shops on Darlinghurst Rd – a Kodak one at one end, which used to be across from “Les Girls” near the fountain and a Fuji lab near the large Coke sign at the other end. It was here that Elaine became friends with the local tattooists and owners of the strip clubs, the local workers, and many celebrities like Carmen.
Syron’s work includes:
- Landscapes and portraits, including urban shots of strip shows, Bourbon & Beefsteak Bar, street races and festivals.
- Portraits of the famous Maori drag-queen, ‘Carmen’, now deceased. Some of which were used in her biography.
- An in depth study of the life of Lou Norwood, drug dealer, now deceased. This fascinating record contains tape cassette and video interviews, photos and drawings of Lou’s story over a 10 year period from 1994.
Elaine’s Darlinghurst collection contains 35 years of photographs showing what an exciting and vibrant place Darlinghurst is. The collection includes:
- Landscapes of the area, the hospital, Oxford St.
- Portraits of local personalities and artists.
- Photographic records of official openings and closing of nightclubs.
For 21 years, Syron photographed both the daily lives and celebratory moments of the Jewish Community and Jewish migrants. Syron’s husband at the time was Jewish and at one time was the President of the Emanuel Synagogue. Her photographs include:
- Images of Jewish holidays and ceremonies, circumcisions, and a visit by the Dalai Lama.
- Photographs and portraits from the 1990s documenting the arrival and integration into Australia of the Russian Jews. Syron met many at the plane or ship as they arrived, she was actively involved in helping them find homes, furniture and jobs, and documented their struggle to fit into Australian society.
- Documentation of a group of Sydney based Holocaust survivors for 21 years.
- Israel trips and Israeli officials visiting to Australia.
- Images and tape recorded interviews from an unfinished book on Cantor Michael Deutsch, Holocaust Survivor, now deceased.