How to use this
Portraits in this learning resource have been selected to reflect the themes of connection and disconnection that unify the entries: connections between sitter and artist, between sitters, with oneself and with community, as well as connection and disconnection with environmental and political concerns.
The resource is designed for secondary education teachers and students of visual arts and can be used in a variety of ways; with a whole class or smaller groups, for group discussion and visual analysis, or for the development of bespoke activities that are relevant to specific groups or content.
Portrait Prize 2020
This year is the 12th National Photographic Portrait Prize. The exhibition reveals contemporary photographic portraiture in Australia; work by professional and aspiring photographers and their unique choice of subjects. This year the judges were Penny Grist, Curator at the National Portrait Gallery; Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Artistic Director of the Tarnanthi festival and descendent of the Darling River people of North Western NSW; and Naomi Hobson, Southern Kaantju artist. The three judges selected 47 portraits by 45 finalists.
Alithia's tree (2019) by Maree YoeluNational Portrait Gallery
The underlying presence of hope in all of these portraits makes these glimpses of the real world sit less heavily on our shoulders, weigh lighter on our hearts, and fall more gently to our feet. Beyond the view from the window, grounded in presence, story and connectedness, these portraits are hopeful.
NPPP 2020 Judge, Penny Grist
Read the full essay
Wonder (2019) by Klarissa DempseyNational Portrait Gallery
between sitter and artist
The NPPP2020 has a number of portraits that suggest a
powerful connection between the artist and sitter. Connections are revealed
more in some images than others, and through different visual devices.
Speculate about the kind of relationship between artist and subject
in each of the following images.
The image will appear before the artist’s statement. Before you
read the artist statement see how close you get to identifying the
relationship. What cues lead you to your suggestion? How much does your
subjective experience of the image influence your idea?
This portrait is of my daughter Tayla. High-spirited, mischievous, intelligent, curious: these are some of the words that come to mind while thinking of her. Tayla always asks questions and needs to know the ‘why’; I love that about her. I love that she is one of the kindest souls you will ever meet, with the most caring heart. This moment was captured on country homelands, where Tayla spends her time playing endlessly with her brothers and sister and cousins, riding bikes, walking to the creeks, playing with the dogs and being carefree.
Rory: (2019) by Michael MurchieNational Portrait Gallery
Downs Syndrome is no barrier to creativity. Rory is a multiple award-winning photographer. I helped mentor Rory over the years and would pit his work against anyone's.
Dad, aged 73 (2019) by Natalie FinneyNational Portrait Gallery
Portrait of my father, aged 73. Dad immigrated to Australia at age 11 and lived most of his life in suburban Melbourne. In 2011 he decided to migrate back to Greece, despite the nation's economic unrest and having no family there. A year later my first child was born. Eight years on, our visit united us and my children met their Pappous for the first time. On the morning of our departure, his normal routine of coffee, cigarettes and radio news was accompanied by emotional conversations between the two of us. Here, he speculates when we will next be together.
Quickly, before its gone (2019) by Elizabeth LookerNational Portrait Gallery
In each of
the portraits that follow, the setting reveals the connection or relationship
between subjects. In this portrait of Jude and Grace, what does the domestic background
suggest? Do you think the colour, texture or drape of the curtain is
Jude and her granddaughter, Grace. This image reminds me of the ephemeral nature of our existence. How important it is to connect. Quickly, before it's gone - a life, the light, the moment, time.
How does the artist statement add meaning to the relationship the artist has presented?
House painters (2019) by Graham MonroNational Portrait Gallery
Relationship is conveyed immediately by the location and body language between these sitters. How does the ‘relationship atmosphere’ differ from the previous portrait? What devices does the artist use?
Our tattooed house painters Taon and Tommy were a colourful, entertaining pair. The wonderful thing about the camera is that it gives your subject their 15 minutes of fame and validation. When you spend time listening to someone else's story you are often rewarded both visually and with a greater sense and understanding of the beauty of humanity.
Brothers (2018) by Steven LloydNational Portrait Gallery
How would you write a story where your opening lines describe the relationship between these subjects? Use prompts from the image in an introductory paragraph.
Nik was visiting his elderly parents over the Christmas break. I was there taking some family portraits, as I have been friends with his parents for many years. I knew as soon as I saw Nik that he had something special I had to capture. I managed to capture Nik and his brother Rulie both cracking up with laughter.
Am I living in hell? (2018) by Lauren HorwoodNational Portrait Gallery
If you were to create a visual world, using your relationship with a location around which to build a story, what location would you use? Here the artist has cropped this space to create a complex image. What aspects of your chosen location would you focus on?
I approached Katie & Tim to photograph them as a couple as they are and on top of that, create my own story. We wanted to create an illusion and a fantasy inside an old abandoned space and bring it to life through colour and composition.
Yukultji and Yalti with their family (2019) by Ben McnamaraNational Portrait Gallery
Environmental connection and disconnection
Research the Pintupi 9 and their relationship to environment, prior to contact with non-Pintupi people. Do you think this relationship is represented in this image? Or is the image about something else?
Yukultji & Yalti, with their family. Two of the Pintubi 9, or 'the lost tribe' as known worldwide who walked out of the Gibson desert in 1984. Taken on Lake Mackay in Pintubi country. A salt lake 100km long in the middle of the desert.
Hell's mouth (2019) by Cam NevilleNational Portrait Gallery
The soft, crisp lighting of the previous portrait contrasts with the hard-edged silhouette of this portrait. Does the light convey emotion? If it does, do you think the emotion reflects that of the artist, or a narrative the artist is proposing in relation to the subject, or something else?
Firefighter Glen Green conducting a backburn as we attempt to construct containment lines in the early days of the Sarabah Bush Fire near Canungra in QLD. Nearly four weeks later, after thousands of volunteer hours the fire was contained, but not before it ravaged the Gold Coast Hinterland and destroyed 13 homes, including the historic Binna Burra Lodge. At the height of the fire wind gusts had reached nearly 90 km/h.
Jarrah (2019) by Charles TambiahNational Portrait Gallery
Before reading the artist statement, speculate about the relationship between the subject and artist. What do you think may interest the artist about this subject and their environment?
Jarrah is a lanky mate I have known for 12 years in remote South Australia. Born into a multi-generational farming family and named after a native tree, his life is coloured by expanses of red dirt and blue skies, and by realities of drought, isolation and uncertainty. A contemplative and gentle person, he is quietly searching for his own identity, using his unique blend of curiosity, stubbornness, sarcasm and humour, without fear of being provocative. His evolving motivations are reflected in his social footy, his mischievous red Kelpie named Template II, and his patched-up 1970s Land Cruiser nicknamed Boris.
Do you think the artist’s intimate knowledge of Jarrah’s world is revealed by the image?
Writing on the wall (2019) by Dr Christian Thompson AONational Portrait Gallery
How does this portrait explore another relationship to environmental themes? Experiment by creating a self-portrait amidst repeated object/s. What are you attempting to explore?
Christian Thompson works as an artist, academic and VR filmmaker, connecting his own experiences to wider social, cultural and political meanings and understandings. A Bidjara person of the central Queensland desert, Thompson has often drawn a vivid connection to the environment throughout a 20-year practice. This self-portrait references the collective anxiety and uncertainty of the climate threat that defines our times. The title is a well known colloquialism for a situation both impending and unavoidable. Cascading wattle blossoms act as a ticking clock. Utilising his signature native botanical elements, the artist disappears into the constellation of flowers: beautiful, regenerative and ephemeral.
Dr Christian Thompson AO
Matilda (Ngambri/Ngunnawal) (2019) by Brenda L CroftNational Portrait Gallery
'There was one Eora woman who the British officers found very striking, and a little frightening too.' 'Matilda (Ngambri/Ngunnawal)' is part of a series, 'Naabami (Thou shall/will see): I am/We are Barangaroo', honouring Cammeraygal woman, Barangaroo (c. 1750 – 1791), wife of Wangal man, Woollarawarre Bennelong (c. 1763/4 – 1813). Renowned for her standpoint as a staunch First Nations woman, Barangaroo determined how she would live and die on her people’s lands during a time of immense upheaval and overwhelming change for Eora and surrounding clans. Her spirit continues to inspire and inform contemporary First Nations' sovereign women.
Brenda L Croft
Amongst many things Matilda House is a storyteller, passing on community identity and heritage. How does the artist statement explore the idea of community across time? What aspects of the image correspond with the concept that the artist proposes?
My story (2019) by Mohammad D and Sam BiddleNational Portrait Gallery
‘A few days before this photo was taken my mother called me in tears. She was hysterical. After seven years of waiting, our permanent protection visa was granted. Soon I will have my face on a passport and I will feel that I truly belong.’
How does the everyday materiality within these images (simple clothing, handwritten text, two simple images) contribute to the portrait’s story of community and belonging? Would the same concept be conveyed with a different presentation or objects? Discuss these ideas in small groups.
Pulangkita pitjangu (when the blanket came) (2019) by Rene Kulitja and Rhett HammertonNational Portrait Gallery
In contrast with the previous image how does the materiality of the cloth with text operate in this image? The text is densely stacked and organised. Do you, as a viewer, engage with the text by reading the words first, or do you see them initially as a texture? The cloth is not a conventional garment but rather appears as an art object itself. Do you think the text is presented to contribute to this effect? What do you think is the significance of the text, in relation to community, within this portrait?
Ara Irititjawanu ngarala ngaranyi wiyaringkuntja wiya alatjitu Tjamu-ku munu Kami-ku palumpa pulampa Walytjapiti iriti nyinanytja tjuta-ku nganampa nyangatja wantikatingu Tjukurpa ngura manta munu wangka malatja malatja-ku Nganana wiyaringkunyangka tjitji malatja tjuta-ngka ma-kanyilku Pulangkita pitjangu munu wangka nganampa tjutunu Nganana English wiya Kulinmalanya Nganana panya pitjanytjatjara tjuta!
Our culture, has been passed down endlessly by our grandfathers and grandmothers. Our families, many generations, left this behind, for us - Law, places, land and language for all those that come after them to inherit. When we are gone, it will be for all our children to hold and look after. This blanket came and covered over our language. We are not English. We are Pitjantjatjara.
Rene Kulitja & Rhett Hammerton
Paper Plane (2019) by Sarah RhodesNational Portrait Gallery
The following portraits and statements convey an internal kind of engagement, absorption or
ease with oneself.
the portraits and their corresponding text. From where in the portrait does the
sense of connection emanate?
you were to craft a portrait in relation to your experience of yourself, how
would you go about it?
would your intention influence your choice of the typical elements of
portraiture: posture, garments, expression, composition etc?
Memories of our childhood. Making childhood memories. Flying paper planes. In an arcadian landscape. A quiet scene of simple pleasure or beauty. A place where nostalgia calls home. Nostalgia –– originally defined as the act of longing for home. A melancholy. Nostalgia now refers to feelings of sentimentality.
Felix, Petty Cash Cafe, Marrickville (2019) by Fiona Wolf-SymeonidesNational Portrait Gallery
I’m not a man, I’m not a woman. Gender isn’t real, it’s a structure created, enforced, and policed by our society, and I’m here to tear it down. I identify as queer, trans, gender non-conforming (gnc) and non-binary (nb). I ask people to use “they/them” pronouns when referring to me. My story isn’t my body. We minimise wildly varied life experiences and perpetuate the lie that gender is binary and defined by our genitals. Ask me about what has shifted within my spirit, heart, mental health, confidence, connections, family. Ask me about my personal growth and self-awareness.
Eileen Kramer is a dancer (2019) by Hugh StewartNational Portrait Gallery
Eileen Kramer is a dancer. She moved back to Australia from New York when she was 98 because she wanted to hear a Kookaburra. She is 105 this year.
Prime minister (2018) by Mike BowersNational Portrait Gallery
Art and politics intersect in many ways.
The composition of this portrait is notable, given the political context. Distance between the central figure, Scott Morrison, and those around him suggests isolation. What else do you think is suggested? Why? How powerfully do images contribute to political discourse or commentary?
Research images that are presented with topical issues in contemporary print and digital media. Can you speculate about the intention of the photographer? Is the image representing one side of a debate or is it more nuanced? Does the image encapsulate a situation differently than the text? Why? Support your argument with evidence from the image.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison sits alone during debate on the encryption legislation in the last sitting week of 2018. At the time he only held the balance of power in the lower house by a very slim margin, and had to rely on the independents on the crossbench to maintain his grip on power. Behind in the polls and facing an election early in the new year, he seemed to have the weight of an entire nation riding on his shoulders.
Nova Gina takes a smoke break (2019) by Elize StrydomNational Portrait Gallery
Consider these three portraits made by First Nations artists. Can you think of other examples of visual art where the artist has put forward an agenda or perspective? Choose an example that resonates for you. Do you think the art created about your chosen issue effectively explores the artist’s intention? Why?
I met Dunghutti man Dallas Webster at his apartment in Parramatta. Over four hours, I photographed the transformation from Dallas to his alter ego, Nova Gina. It's an exhausting process and Dallas needed a few smoke breaks. We chatted about what it was like to be a gay Aboriginal teenager in regional Australia. ‘This is not a life I ever considered possible,’ he said. ‘But now that I'm here, I believe I've established a name for myself and should take advantage of the platform and raise awareness about the issues that really matter to me.’
The hidden half (2019) by Suzanne O'ConnellNational Portrait Gallery
This image looks at race-based privilege in Australia, and attempts to re-conceptualise 'blackfacing'. 'Whitefacing' (such as it appears) re-appropriates the act of 'blackfacing', used historically to de-humanise peoples of colour. Simultaneously, the image seeks to highlight that appropriating another’s skin colour pales into insignificance compared to the systematic extermination of traditional lifestyles of people of colour. Colonisation forced the indoctrination of 'whiteness'. Now the subject once again adopts the white mask as a metaphor for the white-washing of non-white cultures. Jack Wilkie-Jans is a Waanyi man from the Gulf of Carpentaria and of the Teppathiggi and Tjungundji tribes from Western Cape York.
Zellanach Djab Mara (2019) by Sean ParisNational Portrait Gallery
In mid 2018, Gurnaikurnai, Djab Wurrung Indigenous activist Zellanach Djab Mara, was called onto country by senior elders and former Indigenous MP Lidia Thorpe to protect sacred birthing trees on Djab Wurrung land from the impending destruction of a proposed highway through the landscape. Prior to this Zellanach ran a successful business teaching traditional indigenous games to schools, corporations and communities. He was compelled to stop his business to live on country with his wife Amanda, creating the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy. Zellanach has been living at the embassy for over 16 months striving to protect sacred women’s country.
The Mahi-Mahi (2019) by Rob PalmerNational Portrait Gallery
Winner: National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020
This is the winning portrait for the NPPP2020.
Josh Niland, head chef and owner of Saint Peter restaurant, is reinventing what can be done with fish, and – most importantly – with every part of the fish, in a huge effort to drastically reduce wastage. His trailblazing work has received enormous praise from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.
Who would you choose?
Here are all of the Portraits of this years National Photographic Portrait Prize. Who would you choose as a winner and why?
This portrait won the Art Handler’s Award, which is selected from the 48 NPPP finalists’ works as they arrive in preparation for display by the Art Handlers at the National Portrait Gallery.
This exhibit was written by Meredith Hughes, Learning Facilitator at the National Portrait Gallery.
This exhibit was edited and produced by Gill Raymond, Digital Manager at the National Portrait Gallery.
Thanks to the NPPP 2020 finalists for allowing us to include their works!