Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize

Exhibition Review: Photography | Brian Rope

Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize | Multiple Artists

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | 24 August – 14 October 2023

The inaugural Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize is an open-entry exhibition and competition celebrating emerging and established talents in the field of photo media. It shares with us the distinct voices of 72 artists. (Those artists include me, but this review is about the works of the other artists.)

Photo Access has said this exhibition offers a kaleidoscopic view of contemporary photographic art. I would have to say that, whilst there is a considerable amount of work that is such art, there also are some works that I would not put in the contemporary basket at all. The submission of entries that, in my view, are a traditional landscapes or portrait or still life suggests that their authors do not understand what Contemporary photography is.

I spent some years as the Chair of the Australian Photographic Society’s Contemporary Group and am still actively involved in it. I distinguish between Contemporary (with a capital C) and contemporary (lower case c) photography. The latter is any photograph taken now, but because an image was taken today that doesn’t mean it is Contemporary. Real Contemporary photography could have been taken or created at any point in time, but very definitely excludes traditional work. The Royal Photographic Society has defined it as “photography that communicates a visual realisation of a stated argument, idea or concept.”

The winners of this Prize were announced at the opening event on 24  August. The judges - visual artist Anna Madeleine Raupach, photographer Chris Round and PhotoAccess Director Alex Robinson - chose A.C.T artist Sammy Hawker’s Caterpillars in Metamorphosis diptych as the $2,000 First Prize winner for her work Caterpillars in Metamorphosis. N.S.W artist Claire Paul secured the $1,000 Second Prize for her piece Bouddi Breeze. The judges said they were particularly struck by the winners' exceptional blend of concept, process, and execution.

Sammy Hawker, Caterpillars in Metamorphosis (diptych), 2023, inkjet prints, 1/20, 43 x 25 cm.

In her artist statement about the winning work, Hawker revealed that she had found some drowned caterpillars, then ground their bodies and turned them into a chromatogram. Accepting that the hues and patterns that form on silver nitrate-soaked paper cannot be controlled, she has been testing the ability of that process to facilitate the expression of a wide range of vibrant matter. She argues that “the process speaks to the resonance and memory inscribed within materials - no matter what stage of metamorphosis they are in." The resultant artwork is most definitely Contemporary.

Claire Paul, Bouddi Breeze, 2023, Charcoal and ash screen-printed onto handmade paper (plant matter & recycled artworks), 27 x 35 cm.

In Paul’s artist statement she speaks of a photographic project that positions the practice of walking as humankind’s most basic dialogue with the Earth. She tells us that “by utilising long-exposure pinhole photography, foraging practices and screen-printing technologies, Bouddi Breeze pursues a collaboration with nature whilst negating concern for the aesthetics of technically rendered photographs and shedding light on rawer, unconstructed images.” This image is screen-printed with charcoal onto paper handmade from both foraged plant matter and recycled artworks. Again, an artwork that is most definitely Contemporary.

Amongst the other works that I particularly enjoyed are those by Brenda Runnegar which have her own clay sculptures made from fish bones found on the beach, textiles and clay places digitally into the photographs.

Brenda Runnegar - Three Fish

Also delightful are Tessa Ivison’s Other World series captured with a variety of Camera Obscura made from cardboard boxes, the resultant images projected onto black plastic and packing paper then photographed with a mobile phone.

Tessa Ivison - Otherworlds_ Moon Rise

Andrea Francolini’s I am who I am, a 4x5 film + photoshop painting is well worth studying.

Andrea Francolini - I am who I am

Mike Reed’s two exquisite “less is more” works allow us to “glimpse” soft skin.

Mike Reed- La Peau Douce 2

And Danielle Wright’s intimate self-portraits from her Bird+Bone+Blood+Stone conceptual photographic art series are exquisite.


I could identify all the artworks that I most enjoyed but, I’d rather encourage you to determine your own favourites. This well-supported new Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize serves as a unique opportunity to discover and engage with the forefront of photographic creativity. Please, don't miss your chance to explore and celebrate the richness of Contemporary photography. View this exhibition in the gallery if you possibly can. Otherwise, visit the PhotoAccess website to view the entries at here. You might also cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award at here.

This review is also available on the author’s blog here.