National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre is the first stop for the touring exhibition of the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017. The intent of this annual event is to promote the very best in contemporary photographic portraiture, and it is open to aspiring and professional Australian photographers.

This is the tenth year of the prize, and the entries are judged by three people: two from the National Portrait Gallery and one from outside the organisation. There are forty-nine works which make up the finalist collection this year, and three photographers had two works apiece in the final selection: Charlie White, Brett Canet-Gibson and Peter McConchie.

This was the first time that I had seen the prize on tour, and it is a startling reflection of contemporary Australian society. The exhibition features people from many walks of life, with a few familiar faces cast among the portraits. Some portraits are striking for their simplicity; others have telling details in the backdrop and immediate surroundings of the shot.

In the exhibition catalogue, Sarah Engledow notes in her introduction that this year’s submissions (there were thousands of them), featured recurring themes including levitating elements, people photographed underwater, women crying and women wearing hijabs. There were also lots of beards. Engledow encourages reading the artist’s statements which accompany the submitted works as they provide insight and context, sometimes with humour.

There were many arresting portraits in the final selection. ‘A Moment‘ by Millie Brown, capturing a moment of stillness with Peter in a rock pool in East Arnhem Land; ‘Fifteen‘ by Fiona Morris, featuring aerialist Wonona with circus tents in the background; ‘The hermit‘ by Alex Frayne, with Royce Wells dwarfed by bamboo, “one of the most stubborn, brainy, wise, misanthropic and loveable minds I have had the pleasure to know.” I loved the wealth of homely detail in the portrait of Nell in ‘Ninety-nine-and-three-quarters‘ by Nic Duncan, and the framing of Nell’s eyes with the magnifying glass provided a different focus.

One of the finalists, Terry Hartin sums up the essence of portraiture: ‘It is always a collaboration between the photographer and the subject to achieve the best result.’

The exhibition is on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at Katoomba until 13 August.

{Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

 

Advertisements

The Archies are @ Katoomba

It is fantastic how some of the exhibitions in our national and state art galleries are encouraged to roam around the countryside. Of course it is far more strategic than that with months, if not years, of planning required to share some of the amazing work and collections with people in regional areas. These touring exhibitions bring amazing talent to people who may otherwise not have the chance to see them or to experience the transformative moments that come with experiencing something different.

I was delighted when I found out that the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition was making its final regional tour stop at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I had seen the national portrait prize a few times when I lived in Sydney, and had been an ambassador at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo when the 2009 exhibition of the award finalists came to visit. The winner that year was Guy Maestri’s portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu which was incredible. Other highlights included Brandon by Vincent Fantauzzo and Jan Williamson’s portrait of Nancy Kunoth Petyarr. As an ambassador, it was an experience not only to be able to walk around the exhibition to assist as required, but to hear people’s impressions of the artwork as they experienced it first hand.

At the opening on Friday night, Jacquie Riddell from the Art Gallery of NSW gave an interesting overview of the history of the Archibald Prize. She also spoke of how this year’s prize was about to open, and that the gallery was expecting about 1000 entries. The paintings arrive upon a variety of transport methods, from cars, vans and bikes to mules. Well, okay, perhaps not mules. But the competition is intense, the quality of work and array of portraiture methods extensive. And the gallery smells different during this time – all the fresh artwork gathering together, pending the judgement of the board.

The work of the finalists is a staggering scope of artistic talent and method. I do not pretend to know anything about art – I like to look but have no dialect for methods and styles. All I can note is my reaction to the work which is typical of how subjective art is for everyone. The luminosity of the portrait of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill stayed with me, and even when I moved away from the painting I had to look back and see it again. The creativity behind Paul Ryan’s portraits of Noah Taylor (Thirteen Noahs), employing a collection of paintings and pictures and even table tennis paddles gathered at op shops and the like as the background to the work really appealed. The winning portrait Judo house pt 6 (the white bird) of Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom was mesmerising – particularly the hands and face. One of my favourites was Paul Kelly as painted by Jason Benjamin. The artist’s notes included how he tried a couple of approaches before painting PK as a landscape. That is another aspect of getting out and seeing art up close – you can find out more, understand a little better what has influenced the artist in the act of creation.

The exhibition is on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre until July 24 and is well worth the outing. Also check out The Exhibition, a sample of the gallery’s own collection which I’ll write about in a future post.

How often do you get to wander around an inspirational exhibition?

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre from viewing platform – the Carrington Hotel forms the backdrop]