Thursday, June 22, 2023

Photography - 2023 National Photographic Portrait Prize (various artists)

Photography Exhibition Review | Brian Rope

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2023 | Various artists

National Portrait Gallery (Canberra) | 17 June 2022 to 2 October 2023

In this year’s NPPP, there is pathos and  humour, striking colour and sombre black and white. There are images of famous people and those known only to their families and friends, of indigenous people and of refugees, of people living in Australia and some who live elsewhere, and of people from different cultures. There are also many and varied approaches to the genre of portraiture, ranging from traditional to contemporary.

As in previous years, the diversity of the quality artwork delivers a powerful visual exhibition. Indeed, I consider the 47 works on exhibition this year to be an excellent selection well worth viewing. The three judges would, as is always the case with such successful competitions, have had a tough challenge in making their selections from almost 2400 entries. I acknowledged that when speaking briefly with judge Daniel Boetker-Smith at the very well attended media preview (whilst jokingly noting that they didn’t select any of mine).

It is of interest that the subject of the winning image Ruby was also a finalist, with a self-portrait so there are two photos of her in the exhibition.

Ruby (left view), 2022 by Shea Kirk
(The winning image)

Sisters or Friends, 2022 by Emma Armstrong-Porter

(The self-portrait by the subject of the winning image)

The winner of the Art Handlers Award, David Cossini, has both it and another work amongst the finalists on display.

Ugandan Ssebabi, 2022 by David Cossini (Winner of the Art Handlers Award)

In my dreams I am dirty, broke, beautiful & free, 2022 by David Cossini

The finalists include a number of Canberra photographers, demonstrating once again that Australia’s capital city has many fine photo artists. Amongst them, Grace Costa, well-known for her corporate work and her imagery of horses, had Portrait of Zachary selected. She confesses that after seeing her subject at a campsite it took her around 45 mins to work up the courage to ask if she could photograph him.

Portrait of Zachary, 2023 by Grace Costa

Another Canberran, Brenda L Croft (with assistance from Prue Hazelgrove) had blood/memory: Brenda & Christopher i (Gurindji/Malngnin/Mudburra; Mara/ Nandi/Njarrindjerri/Ritharrngu, 2022 selected.

blood-memory. Brenda & Christopher  Gurindji-Malngnin-Mudburra. Mara-Nandi-Njarrindjerri-Ritharrng by Brenda L Croft, Prue Hazelgrove

Another fine, but quite different, portrait of an indigenous young woman is Yarnangu, 2022 by David Darcy.

Yarnangu, 2022 by David Darcy

Amongst some wonderful images of people from a variety of the many cultures we have in this great multicultural country, I particularly enjoyed Mela 2022 by Bahram Mia, which portrays four young women from Afghanistan celebrating birthdays together in this country where they have the freedom to enjoy such moments as once were the norm in their home country.

Mela, 2022 by Bahram Mia

I also loved Portrait of My Mother as an ethno-Futurist icon, 2023 by Sammaneh Pourshafighi. The artwork is of the artist’s mother, an Iranian migrant. The work is colourful and engaging, revealing much of the subject’s personality and identity.

Portrait of My Mother As An Ethno-Futurist Icon, 2023 by Sammaneh Pourshafighi

‘Sunju Calabrese’ #2, 2022 by Renato Colangelo portrays a man who is “unique, flamboyant with an expressive character.” This is a great contemporary artwork.

'Sunju Calabrese' #2, 2022 by Renato Colangelo

Amongst the images of famous people is Aunty Helen, 2021 by Charlie Ford. The subject is the highly successful Australian author, Helen Garner. The artist has successfully captured her in an “unspectacular act” – shutting  a gate – to reflect his aunt’s celebration of beauty in ordinary moments when she authors her works.

Aunty Helen, 2021 by Charlie Ford

I cannot close without mentioning Adam Ferguson’s emotionally moving portrait of Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways) employee, Sumy Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022. It is a poignant reminder of the terrible ongoing conflict there.

Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways) employee, Sumy Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022

by Adam Ferguson

The judges have said the winning work is a “celebration of photography”, and  the Highly Commended has “exceptional cinematic quality”. The art handlers who chose their Award described their selection as “confident and joyful.”

As always, the NPPP is an exhibition not to be missed if you are able to get to it - to see on a gallery wall both the images I’ve mentioned and those I haven’t, either now at the National Portrait Gallery or later when it tours to other Australian locations. If that is not possible for you, all the finalists can be seen here.

 This review is also available on the author's blog here. And now also in the July 2023 issue of The Printer, the online magazine of the Australian Photographic Society's Print Group here.