National Portrait Gallery, Australia - Learning Resource
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.
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.
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 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?
Take a look at some work from the Renaissance.
What similarities are there between this photograph and artworks being produced during this movement?
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'?
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.
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.
Share your ideas with other groups.
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
Can you find other examples of narrative photographs from amongst the finalists of the NPPP 2017?
What elements do narrative photographs share? Consider background, mood, clothing and pose.
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.