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March 2, 2021

Grandmother photo wins $20,000 Olive Cotton Award

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Winning photographer Justine Varga and 2017 judge Dr Shaune Lakin with overall prizewinner, Maternal Lines. (supplied)
Winning photographer Justine Varga and 2017 judge Dr Shaune Lakin with overall prizewinner, Maternal Lines. (supplied)

Sydney photographer Justine Varga has won the $20,000 overall prize for the 2017 Olive Cotton Award for a large-scale work in homage to her grandmother.

The award was announced in an official opening and presentation ceremony at Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah on Saturday night.

Varga’s work, Maternal Line, was selected from the work of 72 finalists, including emerging and established photographers from throughout Australia.

This year’s judge, Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), took a number of hours to make his final selection, saying Varga’s entry is “a very moving portrait of the artist’s relationship with and love for her grandmother”.

Lakin described Maternal Line as “a series of scrawls made by the artist’s grandmother directly onto a piece of film [which] has been printed at monumental scale”.

“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,” he said.

The Papapetrou Family, a striking portrait by Sydney photographer Anne Zahalka, caught the eye of both Lakin and the Gallery's Director, Susi Muddiman OAM. (supplied)
The Papapetrou Family, a striking portrait by Sydney photographer Anne Zahalka, caught the eye of both Lakin and the Gallery’s Director, Susi Muddiman OAM. (supplied)

The Papapetrou Family, a striking portrait by Sydney photographer Anne Zahalka, was snapped up as the 2017 Director’s Choice Acquisition for the Gallery, using funds from the Friends of the Gallery. It was also one of five Highly Commended works chosen by the Judge.

Lakin also Highly Commended:
•  Jed & Sam  2016 by Warwick Baker from Melbourne (type C print) – an intimate and moving double portrait taken in the couple’s bedroom.
•  Ghost  2017 by Tina Fiveash from Sydney (digital print) – a poignant and thought provoking image of a woman in the desert.
•  My ghost  2017 by Polixeni Papapetrou from Melbourne (screen print on gold metallic foil and linen) – a haunting and beautiful portrait of the artist’s daughter Olympia.
•  Timmily  2017  by Rod McNicol from Melbourne (digital print) – a striking portrait in McNicol’s ongoing documentary of the ‘variegated’ inhabitants of his home in inner city Melbourne.
Visitors to the exhibition can vote for their ‘people’s choice’, with a $250 prize for the most popular finalist, funded by the Friends of the Gallery.

A record 492 entries were received this year for the biennial award, which is funded by Olive Cotton’s family in memory of Cotton, who was one of Australia’s leading 20th century photographers.

A full list of finalists is available on the Gallery’s website at http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/PrizesAndAwards/OliveCotton.


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1 COMMENT

  1. I wonder which particular aspects the judge rated as meritorious?
    And why didn’t the grandmother receive the prize as it was her work?
    Give me a break!

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