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.