Photography Story

2021 Year Ender

Photography, Photo Media, Mixed Media

2021. What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.

There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.

I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience – catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.

There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country – an ‘exhibition in a book’ by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer & Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.

There have been marvellous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 Prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.

Skinner also took out 3rd prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)’s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 – an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.

Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia’s Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES Magazine’s Digital Companion.

Ribbons 10 – Milky © Lyndall Gerlach

Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS’s photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as “a stunning body of work with consistent post-production”.

The Canberra Times own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were both finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, whilst Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards.

Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. Sammy Hawker – for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, comprising unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. And Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at Photo Access exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker
Melita Dahl, happy (0.96), 2019

Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph, and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow’s coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.

I’ve recently reviewed some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre – Recovery was the eighth annual photographic exhibition by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens Photographic Group. And also recently I reviewed the final show for the year at Photo Access by 11 photo artists – outcome of a Concept to Exhibition project. And there is one other show to see before the year is done – at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here – and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. Hopefully, it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project!

This article was published in the Canberra Times of 23/12/21 here.

Photography Story

Another Canberran wins $10,000 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

An edited version of this was published in The Canberra Times here. I heard from a friend that it was read out on 1RPH (a Canberra radio station that reads published print material for print-handicapped listeners). This piece provides more detail about the winner than was in my previous review of the Prize here.

The Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) awards $10,000 cash. In 2020, Canberran Judy Parker was the winner and another Canberra artist, Ian Skinner, was a finalist. In 2021 they were both again finalists, and Skinner was awarded the Prize.

Given his first camera for his tenth birthday, Skinner quickly sensed that photographic image making had a purpose beyond its important documentary tool use.

In the early 1980s his work on the conservation of its south-west wilderness took him to Tasmania, where the influence of the pictorial Truchanas/Dombrovskis school shaped his early approaches to landscape photography.

Skinner has been described as an observational photographer who moves through various landscapes and situations forever seeking visual opportunities to fix with the framed eye. His earlier working life in architecture continues to drive an interest in the built environment, often exploring its interface with the natural world.

He is a member of the Australian Photographic Society’s Contemporary Group, PhotoAccess, the National Association of Visual Artists, Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), and is active in various genre-focused social media photographic groups.

Ian Skinner © Ian Skinner

I have appreciated Skinner’s work since I first saw it in a 2011 CPS exhibition. Subsequently, there have been numerous other CPS and Photo Access exhibitions, a joint 2019 exhibition with his brother at The Queanbeyan Hive (that I had the honour of officially opening), and others in 2020 at the Gallery of Small Things in Watson and Magnet Galleries in Melbourne. With this MCPP win, it is clear Skinner is an artist to watch and collect.

As with previous MCPP winning images, the framed print of Skinner’s winning work, Ashscapes 01-04, has been acquired by Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre for its excellent permanent collection of post-war contemporary paintings, ceramics and photography.

Ashscapes 01-04 © Ian Skinner

The concept statement for Skinner’s winning image read: The catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain. The rivers and creeks disgorged vast quantities of debris from the conflagration into the ocean so that the waves turned grey with ash, and convulsed with charred remnants. Where the gentler waves reached their zenith on the beaches, small flecks of carbonised vegetation rested in ephemeral patterns suggesting the hills, ridges and valleys of their living selves.

Ashscapes 01-04 Detail © Ian Skinner

Learning of his win, Skinner took to social media saying “Wow! Totally bowled over, amazed, delighted and above all confirmed to have been awarded the Australian Photographic Society’s Mullins Conceptual Photographic Prize for 2021. In many ways this work came out of a desire to work “in residence” on the south coast of NSW – and I have to thank my sisters-in-law for helping make that happen. On several occasions. The arrival and impact of fire was an unexpected contributor to my deliberations here – and I recall at the time pondering about how to respond to the disaster without being cliched or exploitative. The ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land and all I had to do was See.”

Skinner also expressed delight that his good friend Ian Terry of Hobart was awarded a runner up prize for his “sublime work”, part of a project exploring the impact of the travels of George Augustus Robinson in Van Diemen’s Land.

All the works in the 2021 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.