What a year! Despite everything, local photo artists have continued to make their marks.
There have been many exhibitions. Some openings were conducted outdoors; galleries having to let small numbers inside at a time. Even during lockdown, photo galleries and artists were active, using social media, livestreaming and virtual exhibitions most creatively.
I remain disappointed about poor supporting material available for visitors in some galleries. I urge those that fall short to improve the exhibition experience - catalogues that tell us more than titles and prices, artist/concept statements about artworks, catalogue essays, recordings about the artists and works to hear, and opportunities to look at and, perhaps, purchase books and other material as well as the actual works exhibited.
There have also been interesting new photobooks and books about photography this year, including Capital Country - an "exhibition in a book" by Kate Matthews, and the substantial Installation View by Daniel Palmer and Martyn Jolly which has enriched our understanding of the diversity of Australian photography.
There have been marvelous awards for individual artists. For the third year in succession, Canberra photo artists were finalists in the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP). Indeed, once again a Canberran earned the $10,000 prize. This year it was Ian Skinner for his poetic work, Ashscapes 01-04, about how the ocean delivered ash to the sandy edge of the land when the catastrophic fires in south-eastern Australia in 2019-2020 were shortly followed by torrential rain.
Skinner also took out third prize in the storytelling section of the Australian Photographic Society (APS)'s annual photobook awards for his Aftermath: Cadgee 2020 - an intimate story of heartbreak and loss in the devastating bushfires which swept through the NSW South Coast hinterland in the summer of 2019-2020.
Lyndall Gerlach was again a finalist in the MCPP, was commended for several works in the Australia's Top Emerging Photographers competition and the Mono Awards; and was featured in FRAMES magazine's Digital Companion.
Judy Parker, winner of the 2020 MCPP, won the portfolio section of the APS's photobook awards, with her book Afterthoughts, described by the judges as "a stunning body of work with consistent post-production".
The Canberra Times's own Dion Georgopoulos, and Marzena Wasikowska, were finalists in the prestigious National Photographic Portrait Prize. Georgopoulos has also done some wonderful Darling River photography, while Wasikowska was also selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics' Choice Awards.
Two photographers received 2021 Canberra Critics Circle Awards. One was Sammy Hawker, for her exhibition Acts of Co-Creation at the Mixing Room Gallery, unsettling and thrilling prints processed with water, soil, bark and flowers collected from the locations of the images. The other was Melita Dahl for her intriguing exhibition Portrait at PhotoAccess, exploring connections between the traditions of fine-art portraiture, photography and facial emotion recognition software.
Many professional photographers were hard hit by the pandemic, with sparse numbers of events to photograph and physical outlets for their works closed. The recent collapse of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography after 75 years of serving photographers is, no doubt, an added blow. So, it was great to see on social media, just before writing this, photos from local professional Ben Kopilow's coverage of a wedding in a hot air balloon.
I've just seen an exhibition of some fine nature prints at the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre. And there are two other shows to see before the year is done - at PhotoAccess and Canberra Contemporary Art Space.
This city can, rightfully, be proud of all of the artists I have named here - and of many more making excellent photo artworks. No doubt 2022 will deliver great photomedia exhibitions, events and achievements, including the successful emergence of new local talents. I hope it also will see significant progress on the Kingston Arts Precinct project.
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