Wal Richards was infamous in his home town of Maryborough. He couldn’t read or write, he had no job, and he was forced to survive on welfare.
In 1946, he was given a box brownie camera. With this camera Wal decided that he would use his camera, not to take photographs of sunsets, or sunrises, not of wheat fields or wildlife, but weddings. From around the age of 16 until his death in 1996, all Wal wanted to photograph was weddings. Uninvited, he would position himself up close to the action and record events in his candid and unorthodox style. He would climb into the back of cars with the bridesmaids and snap a photo. He would walk up to the platform during a ceremony to get a photo.
When he passed away, his family found more than 20,000 unsorted wedding photographs stored in shoe boxes, in a shed at the back of his parents’ house where he lived. The collection of photographs brought a unique perspective. Unlike most wedding photographs where they are crisp and organised, he would take a shot of a bride getting out a of car, and she barely makes the shot, but in the background are elderly men in their suits, downing a beer with a huge Toheys New sign above their heads.
The collection was donated to the Maryborough-Midlands Historical Society. In 1998 the Central Goldfields Regional Art Gallery held an exhibition of Wal’s work. His striking photos and remarkable story generated broad interest and was written up in Time Magazine.
People who had long since left the town made pilgrimages back to see Wal’s photos. Thousands came to the opening, hoping that they were maybe captured in Wal’s photos. The curator of the Art Gallery made this observation. She said, ‘Wal Richards has given this town the most exquisite gift. He has taught us to see ourselves in a way that we would never have seen ourselves without him.”
This man who was ignored by many, who many would not have considered wise and who did not fit the mould of the one who could teach us about ourselves, was the one who helped the people of Maryborough see themselves in an authentic way.
Isn’t this what Jesus did? In a world that thought only the powerful, the elite, or the wealthy were wise, Jesus entered our world with such humility that those in power wanted to dismiss him. He was described as a friend of sinners. A glutton and drunkard. He grew up in an unfashionable area. He was not someone that culture would normally listen to. Yet his teaching, his life, death and resurrection invite us to see life from a different angle to the status quo, he shows us God’s perspective. It is an exquisite gift.