April 2017

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, Australia - Learning Resource

How to use the learning resource
We have selected ten portraits of a diverse range of subjects to explore in more depth. The resource is designed primarily for secondary school teachers and students of Visual Arts. The education resource can be used either in the classroom or in small groups; to encourage contemplation and visual analysis of photographic portraits and to facilitate thoughtful conversations by including relevant questions and activities based on the selected images.  
This year is the 10th anniversary of the National Photographic Portrait Prize.
With 3000 entries submitted nationwide the exhibition reflects the distinctive vision of Australia's aspiring and professional portrait photographers and the unique nature of their subjects. This year the judges were Joanna Gilmour, Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Sarah Engledow, Curator at the National Portrait Gallery and George Fetting, guest judge, photographer. The three judges selected 49 finalists for the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017. 

We look for the good, the honourable, the beautiful; we look for the truth; we look for a laugh. In its annual mix of drama, tenderness, banality, gravity and zaniness the National Photographic Portrait Prize expresses Australia in its vigorous variety. NPPP 2017 Judge, Sarah Engledow (Quoted from Essay from NPPP2017)

Want to read more? Find the essay here.

Fifteen, 2016 by Fiona Morris
In the NPPP 2017 there are a number of portraits that provide insight into the subject and their sense of place by portraying a subject in a location in which they live or work.

The subject, dressed in a decorative circus costume, stands out against the background.

Describe the subject’s pose and body language.

Observe the subject’s environment. What can we learn about the subject from your observations?

Shannon Dooley and the Retrosweat experience, 2016 by Chrissie Hall
Here is another portrait where the surroundings convey further information about the subject.  

The setting is an interior space teeming with details about the subject’s life.

What do you think is the subject’s relationship to the other elements in the photograph?

In spite of the busy background the subject is the focus of the composition.

Can you find other examples of portraits with a strong sense of place from the NPPP 2017?

NPPP finalists.

You look like a … Matthew, 2016 by Cherine Fahd
In contrast, the NPPP 2017 also has many photographs in which the subject poses against a plain background.

This portrait is a minimalist head shot of the photographer’s brother Matthew. Limited information is provided to interpret the subject.

The averted gaze and expression become the focus.

What mood or feeling does this portrait express? How does the subject’s gaze affect your response?

The artist statement can be an opportunity for the artist to explain the purpose of their artwork and to explain their practice.

Read Cherine Fahd's artist statement. How has your perception of the photograph changed?

These portraits were motivated by a challenging comment, “shave your beard off, you look like a terrorist”; a remark my parents made (who are Lebanese Australians) to my brothers, hoping to persuade them to shave. The portraits are of young men who wear beards not as a religious requirement nor for political allegiance but rather as a ‘hipster’ style choice. Problematically, their racial appearance superficially recalls images of ‘jihadi’s’ represented in the Western media. The portraits also recall clinical passport portraits, however the subjects challenge the authority of institutional requirements by subverting the cameras gaze by looking to the side.

Kuei – The Sea of Gazelles – South Sudan to Oz, 2016 by Kellie Leczinska
Here is another instance of a studio portrait. This time the subject poses in front of a black backdrop. The subject almost seems to emerge from the dark background.

The stories behind some of this year’s portraits reveal more about the subject. After reading the artist statement would you have chosen to photograph the subject like this? What would you change?

Kellie Leczinska’s artist statement:

Kuei was born in Bahr el Ghazal, which translates as "Sea of Gazelles", in north-western South Sudan. This region has been afflicted by civil war for decades. Roughly two million people died in the conflict and four million were displaced. Kuei spent 8 years in a UN refugee camp before emigrating to Australia. She has survived conflict, disease, famine and an Ebola outbreak in her village. Kuei has now built a new life in Australia with a young son and her Australian partner. I am inspired by her story of determination and how she has flourished in this country.

The image is reminiscent of classic portraiture by
Johannes Vermeer.

Specifically of his iconic portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring.

What elements contribute to the image resembling a classic portrait from art history? Consider composition, pose, expression and gaze.

Ricki, 2016 by Chris Budgeon
Unlike the other portraits in the NPPP 2017, ‘Ricki’ by Chris Budgeon, does not include the subject’s face and like Kellie Leczinska draws connections with painted portraits. 

We are offered a view of a young man’s bared lean and well defined muscled back.

Does a portrait have to depict the face?

How can the body provide an alternative insight into the subject?

Look back at the past 10 years of the NPPP and find other examples of portraits where the subject’s face is obscured.
Previous NPPP finalists.

The photograph is painterly, with its limited palette and soft lighting. It is part of a series - ‘Ancient of Days’ linking with Australian artists like Hugh Ramsay.

Ricki's physique mirrors the labourertype life models used by artists in the early 19th century in paintings.

What similarities can you detect between Chris Budgeon's photograph and Hugh Ramsay's painting?

Renaissance Rose, 2016 by John Benavente
For the first time in the Prize’s history, two portraits were awarded a Highly Commended prize, one being this portrait where the subject is the photographer’s niece. Just like Chris Budgeon, the photographer has been influenced by artwork from a certain period, this time going further back in time to the Renaissance. 

The dark background heightens the dramatic highlighting, which emphasises the texture of her skin and soft features.

Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest points that appear to be in sharp focus.

Here the depth of field is shallow. Her facial features are in focus with her cheeks and neck, softly blurred.

There are ten black and white photographs amongst this year’s finalists.

NPPP finalists.

What impact does a black and white photograph have on you as a viewer, as opposed to a colour photograph?

Take a look at some work from the Renaissance.

What similarities are there between this photograph and artworks being produced during this movement?

Artist's statement:

I use photography as a means to document the world around me and people in my life. I photograph people in their natural environment because I want to preserve a moment in time. My recent focus has been on portraits that capture mood through light and composition reminiscent of the great artists of the Renaissance period. This image was captured on a traditional film camera.

How are the ideas of the photographer conveyed in the portrait 'Renaissance Rose'?

Richard Morecroft and Alison Mackay, 2016 by Gary Grealy
The double portrait of Richard Morecroft and Alison MacKay by Gary Grealy and this years winning photograph. It is a close up; the two figures’ heads and shoulders fill the frame and their faces turn outwards.

A close up portrait allows viewers to examine the subjects’ physical features and expressions.

How does the close up affect the way you view these subjects?

The soft side lighting highlights the contours, textures and fine details of their faces.

The rest of the image is dark; they are positioned in front of a grey backdrop, dressed in black. The lighting subtly reveals small details of their clothes, his embossed shirt and her knitted vest with its silvery furry collar.

Gary on his practice:

It is all about the subject; they must be the hero! I want to be within an arms length of the sitter.

I am looking for the character, the history in the roadmap of the face.

I want intimacy between the lens and subject. Hence, a lot of my portraits are quite closely cropped.

Another element to my approach is the need to research my subject. I read as much as possible. I will view every video I can find ...

The process of visualising the image begins with a drawing. With this technique, I find the composition quickly becomes clear.

On the day of the sitting I want a completely resolved image in my mind; I don’t want my subject twiddling their thumbs while I play with lights. To this end, I pre-light every portrait I make. I photograph myself in the lighting style I intend to use for the portrait. On the day, the lights are set and I begin. Some sittings may require fifty frames; many take ten.

How are portraits made in the studio different from those made in the real world?

In small groups (of three - just like the judging panel!), look through this year’s finalists.

Choose a winner, which you can all agree on, which may mean you have to compromise. Consider your judging criteria and how you will justify your choice.

NPPP finalists.

Share your ideas with other groups.

Mastura, 2016 by Brett Canet-Gibson
'Mastura' by Brett Canet-Gibson was the other portrait awarded a Highly Commended prize. Often a solid colour background indicates a studio shot, but it is possible for photographers to take backdrops outdoors. Brett Canet-Gibson’s practice is to take his camera and tripod, with a portable black backdrop into the streets of Perth. 

If you look closely you will see the photographer reflected in the eye of the subject Mastura. So it includes a self-portrait of the photographer in the very moment of taking the photograph.

This year there are a number of photographs with a limited colour palette.

The subject dressed in varying shades of black stands against a dark background. Despite this, the details of Mastura’s outfit, the ruffles and buttons of her dress and her delicately patterned headscarf are finely wrought.

For the first time in the ten-year history of the Prize, the judges selected three photographers to each have two works on display.

Brett Canet-Gibson was one of the photographers that had two works selected to be in the NPPP 2017 exhibition. The other work is this one of Trevor Jamieson.

Compare the two portraits.

Which one do you think is the most compelling portrait? Why?

Bobby Bunungurr, 2016 by Tobias Titz
The double portrait is a result of collaboration between the subject, Bobby Bunnungur, and the photographer, Tobias Titz.

This portrait won the Art Handler’s Award, which is selected from the 49 NPPP finalists’ works as they arrive in preparation for display by the Art Handlers at the National Portrait Gallery.

The white background offsets the dark and lanky figure of the subject, and the textures of his worn denim vest and jeans.

The subject collaborated by etching his totem into the wet emulsion of a polaroid negative.

The scratchy line drawing of his totem mirrors elements of his pose.

Titz on his process:

Usually the subject in a portrait has no possibility to interact with the photo. The subject can relate to the photographer as the shoot progresses, but once the shutter has fired, that’s it. I thought I would give them the opportunity to comment or contribute to the image itself, that I had just shot. […]. When you ask people to have an input - to leave a mark, it gives them an active role not a passive role.

(quoted in Atkins 2007) From Titz’s website

Do you think every photographic portrait is a result of a collaboration between the subject and the artist?

What are some ways that a subject of a portrait can effect the outcome of an artwork?

Eva and Finn, 2016 by Noah John Thompson
Several of the images from the NPPP 2017 are particularly evocative of narrative. The photographer has depicted an event or captured a moment, which alludes to a larger story.

Finn and Eva stand by a highway that appears deserted, cast in the shadow of a massive smoke cloud that dominates the background...

They are entwined together, her fingers curled around his neck, his around the curve of her waist.

What is going on this picture?

What may have just happened or what do you think is about to happen?

What is the mood of this photograph?

Can you find other examples of narrative photographs from amongst the finalists of the NPPP 2017?

NPPP finalists.

What elements do narrative photographs share? Consider background, mood, clothing and pose.

Photographic Portrait Projects 
Concealed/ Revealed
Make a portrait of someone without clearly showing the face. Pair it with another portrait of the same subject, this time showing the face.  
People and place
Make two portraits where the setting and background assist in conveying the subject’s story. Set one in an interior space and one in an exterior environment. 
What are you looking at? 
Create a close up portrait of the face. Consider the subject’s gaze. 
Re imagine 
Reference a classic pose from art history. Consider how you can change, challenge or subvert the tradition. 
Lights, camera, action
Shoot a portrait using side lighting. 

Find out more about the exhibition by heading over to our

Interested in learning more? Book into one of our virtual excursions and spend some time with one of our Learning Facilitators. Chat, draw and be taken on a virtual tour through the exhibition and Collection.

Want more?! Watch interviews with previous years winning photographers and learn more about their works, experiences with the NPPP and art practice.

A few more finalists works...
What is going on in these photographs? 
National Photographic Prize 2017 Learning Resource
Credits: Story

This exhibit was written by Sally Dawson, Learning Facilitator at the National Portrait Gallery.

This exhibit was edited and produced by Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator at the National Portrait Gallery.

Thanks to the NPPP 2017 finalists for allowing us to include their works.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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