2017 Olive Cotton Award Winner Announced

Sydney photographer Justine Varga's large-scale work in homage to her grandmother has won the $20,000 overall prize for the 2017 Olive Cotton Award.

This year's judge, Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), took a number of hours to make his final selection, saying Varga's entry is "a very moving portrait of the artist's relationship with and love for her grandmother".

Varga's work, Maternal Line, was selected from the work of 72 finalists, including emerging and established photographers from throughout Australia.

Winning photographer Justine Varga and 2017 judge Dr Shaune Lakin with overall prizewinner,  Maternal Lines .

Winning photographer Justine Varga and 2017 judge Dr Shaune Lakin with overall prizewinner, Maternal Lines.

Lakin described Maternal Line as "a series of scrawls made by the artist's grandmother directly onto a piece of film [which] has been printed at monumental scale".

"While Justine's work is very contemporary, she's also deeply interested in the history of photography.  It's a very complex photographic portrait ... it made me think a lot about the act of the making a portrait - about what it means today to make a photograph of someone else, even if in the end it doesn't reveal what they look like," he said.

The Papapetrou Family, a striking portrait by Sydney photographer Anne Zahalka, caught the eye of both Lakin and the Gallery's Director, Susi Muddiman OAM. The theatrical and highly constructed portrait - depicting celebrated photographer Polixeni Papapetrou and The Age art critic Robert Nelson - was snapped up as the 2017 Director's Choice Acquisition for the Gallery, using funds from the Friends of the Gallery. It was also one of five Highly Commended works chosen by the Judge.

Anne Zahalka,  The Papapetrou Family  2017, dye sublimation on chromalux metal

Anne Zahalka, The Papapetrou Family 2017, dye sublimation on chromalux metal

Lakin also Highly Commended:

  •  Jed & Sam2016 by Warwick Baker from Melbourne (type C print) - an intimate and moving double portrait taken in the couple's bedroom.
  •  Ghost2017 by Tina Fiveash from Sydney (digital print) - a poignant and thought provoking image of a woman in the desert.
Tina Fiveash,  Ghost  2017, digital print

Tina Fiveash, Ghost 2017, digital print

  •  My ghost2017 by Polixeni Papapetrou from Melbourne (screen print on gold metallic foil and linen) - a haunting and beautiful portrait of the artist's daughter Olympia.
  •  Timmily  2017by Rod McNicol from Melbourne (digital print) - a striking portrait in McNicol's ongoing documentary of the 'variegated' inhabitants of his home in inner city Melbourne.

Visitors to the exhibition can vote for their 'people's choice', with a $250 prize for the most popular finalist, funded by the Friends of the Gallery.

A record 492 entries were received this year for the biennial award, which is funded by Olive Cotton's family in memory of Cotton, who was one of Australia's leading 20th century photographers.  Lakin is a keen proponent of Cotton's work and was curator of the exhibition Max & Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain which was toured by the NGA in 2016-17.

A full list of finalists is available on the Gallery's website.

The Olive Cotton Award exhibition will run until Sunday 8 October. The Gallery is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Entry to view the exhibition is free.

2017 Olive Cotton Award Finalists on display

The 72 finalists in this year's Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraits, opening at Tweed Regional Gallery today, are a "snapshot of our times", according to Award Coordinator Anouk Beck.

James Brickwood,  British Comedian

James Brickwood, British Comedian

Ms Beck said the 2017 judge, Shaune Lakin, chose a shortlist of finalists that examined many contemporary issues and reflected the ideas, techniques and styles of the overall record pool of entries.

"Entrants have explored themes of masculinity, cultural diversity and immigration, transgender transformation, family and mortality," she said.

"The portraits range from theatrically-posed tableaux to moments advantageously snatched."

A total of 492 entries were received for the 2017 award, continuing a steady increase in submissions for the Gallery's biennial competition. All 72 finalists will be on exhibition at Tweed Regional Gallery until Sunday 8 October.

Twelve-year-old Tweed Shire resident Ari Messina is among the finalists, along with a number of well-known photographers including Michael Cook, Polixeni Papapetrou, Stephen Dupont, Anne Zahalka and Julie Rrap.

They are vying for a $20,000 prize for the overall winner, to be announced at the opening function and awards announcement on Saturday from 5pm.

Stephen DuPont,  Up in the Sky

Stephen DuPont, Up in the Sky

This year's Olive Cotton Award has again attracted a wide spectrum of photographic styles. Some have embraced an historic wet plate printing technique, while others challenge the whole concept of a portrait - at a time when technology is transforming photographic portraiture.

Dr Lakin, the National Gallery of Australia's Senior Curator Photography, said "we shared about 24 billion selfies in 2015, and who knows how many photographs of friends sitting opposite the dinner table or of children doing this or that are among the more than one trillion photographs we will take and share this year."

"All of this has had a huge impact, not just on the social practice of photographic portraiture but on its form. Think, for example, about the way that the digital selfie phenomenon has produced a new portrait pose, one that views the face from above and highlights forehead, raised eyebrow and pouty lips."

For further information, visit the Tweed Regional Gallery website or phone the Gallery on (02) 6670 2790.

Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm.