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October 27, 2021

Francis Cloake in running for National Portrait Prize

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Byron Bay’s Francis Cloake is one of two Northern Rivers photographers named as a finalist in the prestigious Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Francis Cloake. Photo supplied.

Ms Cloake told The Echo she’s loved photographing people since she was a teenager.

‘I went to art school in Adelaide but found the curriculum constraining so didn’t finish my degree, she said.

‘Instead I travelled through the Middle East and Africa in the mid ’80s photographing the people.

‘I ended up having to sell my camera in Nairobi to pay for a plane ticket to London. I lived in London in the late ’80s and early ’90s and exhibited my work.’

Eighteen years ago, Francis Cloake moved to Byron Bay to raise a family. She took a break from photography for a while, but then inspiration struck again, and people soon started taking notice.

She remembers, ‘I picked up my camera again about four years ago and starting shooting. My limited edition fine art print series “Surf” has sold in several galleries across Australia.’

Ms Cloake has been represented in numerous solo and group exhibotions in London and Australia, and was also a finalist in the Olive Cotton Portrait Prize in 2019.

She’s currently working on a new series, “Close to Home”, shooting people in and around their homes, and those living on the streets of Byron Bay.

Preparation and magic hour

For Francis Cloake, ‘Portraiture is intimate… when you catch that fleeting, unguarded moment of your subject. This is the stuff that lights my fire.

‘Swimmers’, Francis Cloake’s finalist portrait for the Olive Cotton Prize 2019.

‘I usually spend an hour shooting a portrait, it’s a very short space of time to get to know the person, so every moment counts.

‘You don’t want to show the bullshit. You want to show what’s beneath the skin,’ she said.

After a warm up, which Ms Cloake describes as ‘a bit of a dance’ between the photographer and the subject, (and the lens and the subject), ‘the last hour is when the real stuff happens, an intimacy builds and your subject relaxes, you start to really see the person in front of you.

‘There is a trust between you now,’ she said. ‘It is a privilege to be able to take someone’s portrait. And it’s something I never take for granted.’

Francis Cloake said, ‘Being selected as a finalist for the National Photographic Portrait Prize is an absolute honour. It reassures me to keep going, and doing what I love most, photographing people and telling their stories.

‘I can’t disclose the subject of my portrait, but I can give you a hint, he surfs,’ she said.

You can see more of Francis Cloake’s work at her website: www.franciscloake.com.au/.

She is represented by Pack Gallery in Bangalow.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize finalists will be shown at the National Portrait Gallery in King Edward Terrace in Canberra from July 31 until November 7, 2021. All the selected portraits are under wraps until the winner is announced.

The other Northern Rivers finalist this year is R J Poole.

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