National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

1 April 2017

The National Photographic Portrait Prize constantly changes my perception of what constitutes a portrait. I’ve been to them all over the short ten year history of the prize with the first in 2007 at the then temporary gallery in Old Parliament House to the very modern, permanent and considerably more appropriate space of the National Portrait Gallery, cheek by jowl with the High Court.

 We’ve seen many outstanding works hung over the years but still I’m challenged by the judges’ choices. I almost immediately find my choice after a quick circuit and always thoroughly enjoy the chance to meet the photographers, question their subject choices and gain an insight into their style and methodology where not surprisingly for me many are not taken with all the tools of the trade  photographers now have to work with.

The 2017 collection is predominately black and white, very blokey and bearded. And Trevor Jamieson, one of our finest actors, is so impressive with his magnificent white beard and piercing eyes. Brett Canet-Gibson photographed Jamieson on a Sunday arvo using his portable black backdrop and natural light at the University of Western Australia. Canet-Gibson used the same method for his Highly Commended portrait of lifestyle and fashion blogger and marketing consultant Mastura, taken on a street in Perth. With her alabaster skin and black on black clothes her enigmatic smile holds your attention.

The simple approach to a portrait worked well too for John Benavente’s portrait, Renaissance Rose, by photographing  Rose at home with just a few frames to get what he wanted. Rose is a neighbour and she had been ill, the result earned Benavente a Highly Commended and Rose a sense of incredulity that it was chosen.

I’m drawn to the blokes portraits; Gino Zardo’s Mark Webber is a hard stare from a handsome and charming man, known and admired by Zardo from their Queanbeyan days, while Greg Nelson’s Rob, homeless in Cooma, wears his life in the furrows and crevices of his face. Daniel Sponiar’s Luke and Nacoya evokes a vulnerability and sensitivity unexpected in a naked singer and guitarist in a heavy metal band holding his Pomeranian while David Darcy’s David in a Convict Lumber Yard in Newcastle is an altogether different and confronting man who surely has a fascinating story to tell.

The winner is a photograph by Gary Gready of Richard Morecroft and Alison Mackay. Absent is the usual Morecroft smile with just a hint of one from Mackay but together as partners in life and work – his  photography and her painting -  with both writing and exhibiting, this portrait is about their now not then. And in a weird moment the day after the announcement and opening party I ran into Morecroft in a fashion emporium of skinny jeans, and on- trend clobber from Europe where his familiar smile greeted my comment that he was surely right out of his comfort zone. And no I hadn’t seen Alison.

Make time to see the exhibition and vote for your favourite.