Few people have more intimate knowledge of this year's National Photographic Portrait Prize works than Jessica Kemister and James Ley.
Their jobs as the National Portrait Gallery's art handlers means they spend more time with the artworks than anyone else. They see the works in different lights and different settings. They're also the ones who study them closely for quality control.
It's because of this that they are in the unique position to bestow the National Photographic Portrait Prize Art Handlers' Award, which was awarded to Melbourne photographer Kristina Kraskov's work, I'm just a suburban fashionista on Tuesday afternoon.
Kraskov is a documentary filmmaker with an interest in capturing people in their own spaces, "surrounded by small parts of themselves".
"Michelle's house was the most drastic example of this I'd ever witnessed - I couldn't help but capture her in her element," she said.
"Like the experience of meeting Michelle, the portrait is eclectic; she can get lost amongst the curated chaos, yet has an undeniable presence."
For Ms Kemister and Mr Ley, it was the work's detail that stood out to them. They both kept coming back to the work, each time finding something new in Michelle's collection of ornaments.
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"It's just immediately appealing and engrossing," Mr Ley said.
"It's been said that there's so much to look at, and I like the dimensions of the work as well because it draws you in to just explore. We see it over a long period from when it arrives to when we hang it, and all that time we were just looking at it, seeing something else and enjoying it.
"That time spent with the works ... it's a very personal analysis of each of the works. You develop a relationship with them."
The Art Handlers' Award is $2000 from IAS Fine Art Logistics. It comes almost two weeks after the announcement of this year's overall winner, Joel B. Pratley, for his portrait offarmer David Kalisch during an unexpected dust storm.
Ms Quinlan said while the prize always serves up a rich tableau of humanity, the 2021 version of the prize - titled Living Memory - has particular significance.
"While we see the bright celebration of identity we expect from works selected for the National Photographic Portrait Prize, the portraits also reflect the maelstrom that was late 2019 and 2020, and the darkness of a period that included widespread fires and a pandemic," she said.
- The Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition runs until November 7.
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