Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

June 24 – Visiting the 2011 OLIVE COTTON

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Tamara Dean's First Prize Image "Damien Skipper"

The Tweed River Art Gallery @ Murwillumbah is once again hosting the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture – The exhibition will be on show until July 31, 2011.

This year the Judge was Naomi Cass from CCP in Melbourne and as usual the selected works present a comprehensive review of contemporary Australian photo portraiture from the best photographers in the country as well as the latest crop of emerging image-makers. The portrait remains one of the most fascinating genres of photography – there is something about the face that connects with the viewer.

Some observations

In this year’s Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture there was something for everyone. This exhibition always provides a broad overview of contemporary photographic practice as 2D wall presented images.

The process and media by which the works were made were described by didactic panels placed around the gallery —everything from cyanotypes to gliclee printing and from Type C to inkjet. Those looking for historical processes found large format (whole plate?) ambrotypes paying tribute to the soft romantic feel of 19th century photography. Sizes of the works ranged from the larger than life images of the famous and infamous to the small personal and the everyday through which we can all find some empathy and connection.

In this mix there seemed to be a trend towards the selection of the reinvented holiday or family album snapshot—mostly in black and white. Some of these images showed the poser/s as acting out or ‘hamming up’ personal moments which when placed on the gallery walls transformed these images into arcane representations of everyday life. Others, whether staged or seen images, were illustrations of current political and cultural issues reframed by utilizing the informality and familiarity of the snap shot and then presented as austere gallery-crafted images for the consideration of thoughtful viewers.

For me, the most successful portraits are the ones that draw upon a deep understanding of photographic quality (tone, colour, detail, time etc.) and aesthetics. Alongside this there needs to be a flexible and experimental approach to style embedded in the psyche of the photographer that is combined with an empathy and curiosity for the subject. For me the portrait is developed through time spent by the photographer in collaboration with the subject and created in a moment of synergy and intensity that distils the portrait concept. The strength, depth and intensity of this collaboration, if handled skilfully, can visually transfer an afterimage onto the viewer’s imagination and memory that transcends the gallery experience.  For me all of these decisive factors came together in not only the winning image of Tamara Dean, Damien Skipper, but they were also very strong in Russell Shakespeare’s, Michael Zavros and Samantha Everton’s, Illusion.


Victoria Cooper  25 June 2011


TO ACCESS a list of the finalists and the winners visit:


DOWNLOAD a copy of the catalogue for the 2011 Award here


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