Picture award-winning portraiture

Here’s a random selection of some of the finalists (and the winner) in Australia’s recently awarded 2012 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Personally, I have very mixed feelings about this year’s entries, so will be interested to hear what you make of them!

At the bus stop (by Brenton McGeachie)

At the bus stop by Brenton McGeachie

Richard Neville (by Graham McCarter)

Richard Neville by Graham McCarter

Olive (by David Glazebrook)

Olive by David Glazebrook

Ned (by Benjamin Liew)

Ned by Benjamin Liew

Monkey business by Alina Gozin'a

Monkey business by Alina Gozin’a

Janai and Josh (by Simon Harsent)

Janai and Josh by Simon Harsent

Gil Askey (by Titian Scheffer)

Gil Askey by Titian Scheffer

Frog Hunter, Damien Wurrkidj (by Matthew Abbott)

Frog Hunter, Damien Wurrkidj by Matthew Abbott

Dan Sultan (by Martin Philbey)

Dan Sultan by Martin Philbey

Caravan Kids (by Jennifer Stocks)

Caravan Kids by Jennifer Stocks

Sayeh- from the series Iranians (by Aletheia Casey)

Sayeh – from the series Iranians by Aletheia Casey

No junk mail (by Juli Balla)

No junk mail by Juli Balla

Peta (by Eryca Green)

Peta by Eryca Green

And the winning entry…

Jack Charles (by Roderick McNicol)

Jack Charles by Roderick McNicol

So, what do you think?

I’m disappointed by the standard of entries this year. Many rely on their backstory before they resonate with me at all. But shouldn’t a portrait be able to stand alone, without the need for commentary? Shouldn’t the viewer feel some kind of emotive charge simply by viewing?

Of course, personal taste is a highly subjective matter, so we may well disagree in our critiques. But rather than being negative by pointing out all the elements I don’t like in the selection provided here, I’ll highlight some of the elements I do like instead:

Ned by Benjamin Liew
In a fleeting moment the photographer seems to have successfully captured the essence of Ned’s character. For me, Ned’s direct gaze immediately engages the viewer to create a feeling of connection and recognition.

Gil Askey by Titian Scheffer
Now this is my kind of portraiture. I love environmental portraits that illuminate not just the subject’s physical presence, but their life experience as well, so I have a natural bias towards this shot. Plus I love the sense of drama provided by the wide-angle lens here. This image is my personal pick.

Frog Hunter, Damien Wurrkidj, by Matthew Abbott
Once again, my preference for environmental portraits influences my choice. There’s a sense of the boy’s independent and self-assured character here, and of course a strong sense of place too.

Caravan Kids by Jennifer Stocks
I quite like the retro quirkiness of this shot – the 1960s caravan and the vintage pjs!

No junk mail by Juli Balla
This image says much about the subject, that this seemingly reserved and elegant woman continues to take great personal pride in her grooming regardless of advancing years. And that she is anything but beige.

Peta by Eryca Green
I find this deeply personal image of cancer survivor Peta moving. I particularly like the positive feelings evoked by Peta’s upturned face seeking the light.

I will make one comment about the winning entry, the final image: I think there’s a world of difference between a great subject and a great portrait.

Despite feeling disappointed by the quality of entries this year, what strikes me most about the collection of portraits is their variety. Some are highly constructed tableaux, some are intensely intimate, while some take a dispassionate documentary approach. They’re as individual as their subjects. And ultimately I guess that’s what portraiture’s all about.

Be sure to view the complete gallery of entries from this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize – the photographs here are just a selection. You’ll find more, including larger images (and in fairness, the entries are best viewed large), their backstories and artists’ statements, by clicking here.

(And if you’re the curious type and really want to know what I don’t like about a particular image, you’re welcome to ask!)

14 thoughts on “Picture award-winning portraiture

  1. Thanks again for sharing! 🙂 OK, from MY point of view, if the top one is the winner, I cannot see why – to me that is not really a portrait. I do love Olive – it feels like any minute now she’s going to engage me in a chat; Ned – has lots of character and the direct gaze which hides nothing; Peta – for the emotions she evokes in me, and the ones she must be feeling herself. To me the others are pretty average and causes no reaction from/in me.
    That’s it, in a nutshell! 🙂

    • Hi Zelmare… actually the final image is the winning entry, but I agree with you about the first shot. No doubt this image works better when viewed large on a gallery wall, but for me this would’ve been a much more successful “portrait” had it been more tightly framed to exclude the roof and front walls of the bus shelter so that we were provided with a more intimate view of the subject. Thank you for your considered feedback – I appreciate it!

    • Phil, I do wish you’d say what you really mean. Can’t stand all this politically correct beating about the bush! (Unfortunately I tend to agree.)

  2. Hi Susie! I am not an expert in portraiture, but I will share with you the photographs that appealed to me and gave me an emotional “response.” Richard, Olive and Ned all spoke to me. I agree with you about “no junk mail,” and Peta was simply amazing.

    Thanks for posting and asking for opinions!


      • Haha! Yes, OK – I have a thing about the ‘rule of thirds’, it’s a ‘rule’ that was invented by painters hundreds of years ago, so I tend to ignore it, but a lot of people don’t. All but one or two of the images have their subject placed in the middle. This pleases me.

        • Well observed! In theory I don’t really subscribe to rules either, but despite this when I’m shooting with my DSLR I actually do tend to obey the rule-of-thirds too. I think in “straight” photography it generally does make for pleasing compositions.

          However, what I love about lomography in contrast is that there are no rules, the mantra in fact being “Don’t think, just shoot!” which I find really liberating. When I shoot with my Diana, I’m much more spontaneous and have more fun, as I enthusiastically noted in a related post last December.

          I actually did make an abstracted landscape/seascape series with my DSLR by adopting the “no rules” philosophy (some examples of which you can view under the “My Projects” tab if you’re the curious type) and really enjoyed the experience – I suspect I should apply this mantra to my photography more often!

          Thanks so much for your interest and for providing your valued impressions, Phil – they make for a really thought-provoking discussion…

thoughts? let me know what you think!

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