Exhibition Review, Reviews

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022

Photography Exhibition Review

Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize 2022 | Various artists

Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre | 9 July – 27 August 2022

For the third year in succession, a Canberran has won the MCPP. After Judy Parker won in 2020 and Ian Skinner in 2021, this year the first prize of $15,000 went to Sammy Hawker.

In his magazine Inside Imaging here, Will Shipton said “There must be something in the water around Canberra that feeds the conceptual photographic mind, as three of the four winners are from the relatively small capital city” and “The fourth MCPP is organised by the Australian Photographic Society (APS), an umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs. The grand prize won by Hawker is an impressive $15,000 cash, making the MCPP a major Australian photo contest.”

I’ve previously reviewed two of Hawker’s recent exhibitions here and here. She works predominantly with film, often in close association with traditional custodians, and challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment a camera shutter is released.

Sammy Hawker – Mount Gulaga, 2021

Hawker’s concept statement reads “This work was captured on 4×5 film looking out towards Mount Gulaga from the Wallaga Lake headland. I processed the negative with ocean water collected from site. When processing film with salt water the corrosive properties lifts the silver emulsion and the representational image is rendered vague. However an essence of the site is introduced to the frame as the vibrant matter paints its way onto the negative. A ghost of Gulaga looms behind the abstraction ~ felt rather than seen.”

Other Canberran finalists this year were Lyndall Gerlach, with two of her works, and Susan Henderson. Gerlach says, “For me, a good photographic image must always engage the viewer either emotionally or intellectually.” You can read more about Gerlach in another of my pieces here.

Lyndall Gerlach – Night City-ness #1, 2021
Lyndall Gerlach – Contemporary Lifestyle, 2021

This is Henderson’s first time as a finalist. Henderson believes photography is mostly about capturing the real and the now. She is “fascinated by the conjuncture of the two, the transient opportunity to record the light rather than the subject, to take advantage of nature and the built environment to photograph.”

Susan Henderson – Rain 2, 2021

At the opening, adjudicator Bill Bachman said “we were instinctively looking for images with a strong or original concept and superior execution, that in some way challenged our notions of normal. Happily, there were ideas, techniques and processes galore.”

Julie Williams had two works selected as finalists. Of them, Moth was given one of three Honourable Mentions. My first thought when I saw it was “bushranger”. Then I learned it is a reinterpretation of the life of the Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936).

Julie Williams – Moth, 2022

The other HMs were works by Claire Conroy and Ben Blick-Hodge.

Claire Conroy – 35mm slide recovered in Lismore floods 2022
Ben Blick-Hodge – Soup’s up! 2022

At the opening I met two first time finalists Sue Gordon and Michael Shirley, both of whom were thrilled to have had their works selected. In his artist statement relating to his work, Rain, Shirley speaks of rain coming to take you, your life, your house, your possessions, your friends. The black and white artwork shows numerous people under umbrellas, almost obliterated by rain which he has deliberately exaggerated.

Michael Shirley – Rain, 2021

Gordon’s work is a self-portrait titled What’s hidden in shadows. It is a powerful bruised depiction of physical abuse once experienced, but no more hidden or excused.

Sue Gordon – What’s Hidden in Shadows, 2022

It was also great to see the work by Vicky Cooper and Doug Spowart – a concertina photo book – displayed on a shelf. This was the first year that anything other than 2 dimensional prints could be entered, so it was excellent that this work was a finalist.

Victoria Cooper & Doug Spowart – Desire Paths, 2022

All the finalists in the 2022 MCPP exhibition can be seen in a virtual gallery here.

This review is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Exhibition Review, Reviews

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS

Photography Exhibition Review

CITY COMMISSIONS – PORTRAITS | SAMMY HAWKER

Tuggeranong Town Centre (on windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge) | Until 4 July 2022

Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist working predominantly on Ngunawal Country. She works predominantly with analogue photography techniques and often works closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists and ecologists.

In 2021 Hawker had two highly successful solo shows as part of a PhotoAccess darkroom residency. She is currently an artist-in-residence with the CORRIDOR project and is also preparing for another solo show before year end.

Over the last six months Hawker worked closely with nine young people from Headspace Tuggeranong exploring ways they could co-create photographic portraits. This was part of a City Commissions project delivered by Contour 556, one of seven artsACT initiatives in the Creative Recovery and Resilience Program.

Headspace is a safe space that welcomes and supports young people aged 12–25, their families, friends and carers, helping them to find the right services. Learning the Headspace motto “clear is kind”, Hawker realised her project was also about finding clarity as a form of self-compassion – shining light on what for many was a particularly dark and confusing time.


Hawker challenges the notion that a photograph constitutes the moment that a shutter is released. She explores ways of making, rather than taking, images. She wanted the project to be empowering – with no right or wrong and where the final photographs celebrated identity and experience beyond just the way her subjects looked in the frame. It was an opportunity to realise we always have some choice whether we repress difficult experiences.

The portraits of the young people were captured on a large format film camera. Commonly, in photographic practice, touch and marks on negatives are to be avoided. But Hawker invited her subjects to handle, manipulate, scratch or even bury negatives in order to introduce something of themselves. The young folk wrangled puppies, dived into rivers, got dressed up, sprinkled bushfire ash on negatives and processed film in the Headspace carpark.

Each participant was invited to use the project to reflect on their experiences of difficult times. Their statements relating to the images reveal resilience and hope.

Chanelle reflected about living in the moment. The negative of her portrait, showing her immersed in the Murrumbidgee River, was processed with water from that river, ocean water and permanent marker.

Chanelle ©Sammy Hawker

Sophie spoke of learning to embrace everything in life. Her portrait’s negative was processed with bushfire ash and the word Embrace scratched into it. The ash creates a frame that embraces her.

Sanjeta really likes her photo with jellyfish manipulations as metaphors for how she now goes with the flow of her life journey. Her expression conveys a “so be it” attitude. The negative was processed with Murrumbidgee water, rainwater, seaweed and chemical stains.

Sanjeta © Sammy Hawker

Ray wanted to keep connected and bring some joy into the lives of others. The portrait’s beaming smile conveys joy. The idea of processing the negative with Whiz Pop Bang bubble mixture and wattle pollen adds to the joy.

Ray’s Statement

Jazzy is photographed with her much loved dog Milo. So, of course, the processing of the negative utilised Milo’s pawprints.

Jazzy Jazzy © Sammy Hawker
Devante © Sammy Hawker
Installation shot – Under Soward Way bridge (supplied)

When I reviewed her Acts of Co-Creation show (for which she received a Canberra Critics Circle Award) in this publication, I wrote of Hawker’s then newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell who helped her to learn about sites she was working with. For this project, Hawker arranged for Bell to escort her subjects walking Ngunawal Country, providing a healing experience for them.

I strongly recommended readers to visit City Commissions – Portraits – and reflect on your own difficult times.

An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times of 28/6/22 on the Capital Life page, and the full version online here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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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.

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