The Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture is a AUD $20,000 biennial national award for excellence in photographic portraiture dedicated to the memory of Australian photographer Olive Cotton.
The winner of the 2017 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture was announced on Saturday 23 July by the 2017 Award Judge Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia. The winner is Justine Varga of Sydney. Her portrait of her grandmother Maternal Line 2017 was the stand-out winner for Lakin. Dr Lakin added, “It’s a very moving portrait of the artist’s relationship with and love for her grandmother.”
Yet, debates have already started about whether the winning entry should even have qualified as a “portrait.”
The first problem: the “portrait” does not figure a person at all, but rather a series of scrawls made by the artist’s grandmother directly onto a piece of film that Ms. Varga gave her to scribble on.
According to Merriam-Webster:
Definition of PORTRAIT
1: picture; especially : a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face
2: a sculptured figure : bust
3: a graphic portrayal in words
Note the first definition: a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face [emphasis mine]. So, a portrait technically does not have to always show the face of the person. First problem solved.
The second problem: no camera was used to take the portrait.
In fact, the rules for the contest clearly stipulate that entries should be:
· Photographic, archivally sound, still and two-dimensional;
· Within the size limits and able to be hung on or pinned to Gallery walls.
The Judge will be looking for excellence in photographic technique, creativity and originality to the standards prescribed by the Director, Tweed Regional Gallery.
The fact that it specifically mentions “photographic” twice (the entry should be photographic and displays excellence in photographic technique) is a no-brainer that a photo needs to be involved. Well, again, the winning entry consists of scribbles onto a piece of photographic film and so, technically, that’s a “photo,” no? I mean, if the scribbles were on a piece of paper, the entry would probably not qualify. Second problem solved.
Congratulations to Ms. Varga for her winning entry. Gallery visitors will probably stare a long time at this “portrait,” bemused by the description written underneath that it’s a portrait of her grandmother. If they don’t get it, what else is new? It’s ART!
2017 Olive cotton Award Winner Announced
The $20,000 winner of the 2017 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture was announced on Saturday 23 July by the 2017 Award Judge Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia.
The winner of the 2017 Award is Justine Varga of Sydney. Her portrait of her grandmother Maternal Line 2017 was the stand-out winner for Lakin who said: “While Justine’s work is very contemporary, she’s also deeply interested in the history of photography. It’s a very complex photographic portrait: it made me think a lot about the act of the making a portrait – about what it means today to make a photograph of someone else, even if in the end it doesn’t reveal what they look like. But photography has never just been about appearance. It’s also been part of the way that we experience things like memory and relationships. The image – a series of scrawls made by the artist’s grandmother directly onto a piece of film – has been printed at monumental scale. It’s a very moving portrait of the artist’s relationship with and love for her grandmother.”
Justine Varga travelled from Sydney to attend the opening celebrations and was honoured to be announced as the Winner of the Award, which Lakin called “the most important photographic portrait prize in Australia”. Varga remarked that although her grandmother had called her photographic methods “crazy”, she would be thrilled about the announcement, which was made during the week of her 80th birthday.
Varga’s portrait passes into the Tweed Regional Gallery collection, through the terms of this acquisitive prize and funds from the family of the late Olive Cotton.
Lakin also Highly Commended the works of:
• Anne Zahalka from Sydney – The Papapetrou Family 2017 dye sublimation on chromalux metal – a theatrical and highly constructed portrait of celebrated photographer Polixeni Papapetrou, The Age art critic Robert Nelson, their children Solomon and Olympia and their rescue greyhounds Lexi and Mille.
• Warwick Baker from Melbourne – Jed and Sam 2016 type C print – an intimate and moving double portrait taken in the couple’s bedroom;
• Tina Fiveash from Sydney – Ghost 2017 digital print – a compelling and thought provoking image of a woman in a beach or desert location
• Polixeni Papapetrou from Melbourne – My ghost 2017 screen print on gold metallic foil and linen – a haunting, poignant and beautiful portrait of the artist’s daughter Olympia.
• Rod McNicol from Melbourne – Timmily 2017 digital print – a striking portrait in McNicol’s ongoing documentary of the ‘variegated’ inhabitants of his home in inner city Melbourne.
The Director’s Choice Award was the The Papapetrou Family by Anne Zahalka, acquired for the Tweed Regional Gallery’s Permanent Collection through funds from the Friends of the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre Inc.
The Olive Cotton Award can be viewed Wednesday to Sunday 10.00am-5.00pm at the Tweed Regional Gallery, 2 Mistral Road, Murwillumbah South NSW 248 until Sunday 8 October. Visitors may vote in the $250 People’s Choice Awards which will go the artist voted most popular.
The exhibition catalogue can be viewed here 2017 Olive Cotton Award exhibition catalogue (3.43mB PDF).
The Winner and Awarded works can be viewed here 2017 Olive Cotton Award Winner and Awards (280kB PDF).