National Photographic Portrait Prize 2016Share Event on Facebook Share Event on Twitter Share Event on LinkedIn
It took Henry James thousands of words to create his Portrait of a Lady. And she is of course as we imagine her from the story. Painted portraits are the creation of the artist, a perspective open for interpretation and opinions. But photographs in the main are a moment in time captured through a lens with contrivance of light, colour, background and facial expressions to evoke a mood, emotions and a story. So if a ‘picture paints a thousand words’ there’s a lot of stories being told in the 2016 National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
It is for contemporary photography and invites professional and aspiring photographers - the first award was in December 2007 - it is now an annual event, and once again presents an eclectic mix of work that this year is youthful with lots of children among the favourite subjects, more colourful and evocative. How the winners are decided eludes me, but that’s part of the pleasure of this exhibition as you bring your own perspectives to contemporary photography, as much as you do to any art form, and make your own judgments. But the stories are enchanting, funny and add another essential dimension to the photographs that can't be achieved witha caption.
Among the finalists are people I’ve worked with including Carol Elvin who has been enthusiastically taking photographs for just six months and produced a charming picture ‘Nobby looking back’, of her father-in-law a former doctor with a love of the local bush and at 87 is tall, lean and agile and very proud of this photo. Katherine Griffiths has always shown great talent and we worked together at our local newspaper before she found her niche in a different market. Her photograph is of ‘Olga and her blanket’, an elegant lady who saw the horror of Auschwitz and left the camp with this blanket of human hair covering her skeletal frame. And then there’s the Highly Commended work of local Canberra photographer Sean Davey of ‘Asha’, a small photograph of her head and torso lying on the ground where the balance, proportion and lighting he achieved is exquisite.
The new ‘art handlers award’ that is code for packing room team choice is among my favourites with Matthew Newton’s ‘On Albatross Island’ where marine biologist Dr Rachael Alderman has been visiting for a decade banding and fitting miniature satellite tracking devices is holding an albatross. Simple, evocative of the Ancient Mariner, and photographed on the rugged and remote island of the north-west coast of Tasmania where the birds come home to roost, is memorable.
It was a good party too for the opening with what seemed to be the biggest crowd ever and a blast from a Hornet flypast that shook the building and silenced the Director Angus Trumble. To announce and present the awards, James Valentine brought his quirky humour to the proceedings as well as a film crew to film a segment for his ABC TV program The Mix.
And the winner is Elizabeth Looker from Perth who had her husband and two children as well as close friend Georgina Campbell who lives in Goulburn with her to celebrate. Her whimsical photograph ‘Life dancers’ of her niece and son playing around the backyard banana tree reminds of simpler times and how children remind us and take us back to everything that is important.
The exhibition continues at the National Portrait Gallery until 26 June.