Bowness Photography Prize 2011 : Monash Gallery of Art

Light Throw (Mirrors) #4 – Jacky Redgate (Prize Winner)

Bowness Photography Prize 2011
Monash Gallery of Art

Walk in to a local pub and ask ‘normal people’ for recognition of names like Picasso, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and 9/10 times you will get a yes. But ask the same of the equivalent in law, politics, activism, business and you would be lucky to get recognition of one name – such is the impact of art and artists on our lives, they are the ones who are remembered.

So spoke Julian Burnside QC at the recent award night of the annual Bowness Photography Prize, at $25,000 one of Australia’s most coveted photography awards. Burnside continued with an expression of gratitude to award founder Bill Bowness for supporting the arts in the most meaningful way – with financial assistance.

I have attended the award a number of times in the past and have been engaged by the diversity of work, both in technical ability and in artistic concept. Disappointingly, the 2011 exhibition did not have the same effect. Break here and read more? I personally felt too much attention was given to concept, many of the artists trying to make bold sweeping social or political comments that were unsuccessful. I think that an artwork should be a journey, starting with the viewers’ reaction to the visual – an emotional reaction, either positive or negative, that makes you want to find out more about the artist, the concept, the subject of the work- all resulting in an “a-ha” moment of understanding, appreciation or dismissal.

The majority of the works on display stirred no emotional reaction. Reading the concept statements provided no further understanding or appreciation. Technical expertise was lacking in many cases with the expectation that concept would fill the gap. I felt as though the artists were trying too hard!

Of course this was not true of all works. I was most impressed by photographer Sean Fennessy’s print ‘father & son’ (see below), a simple shot of a father assisting his disabled son to swim. It had great emotional quality in its composition and colours – simple and elegant.

Another highlight for me was the black and white portrait of actor Ewan MacGregor by Chris Budgeon (see below), part of a series of works called Are We Not Men’. This explored the meaning of ‘masculine’ in the21st century – a simple shot technically superior in its execution, lighting and presentation.

Another impressive feature of the works exhibited was the innovative presentation: Works were on perspex and “chromogenic” prints added vibrancy to colours. The prize winning work ‘Light Throw (Mirrors) #4’ by Jacky Redgate (see above) was one such print, an arrangment of shadows and light cast by plastic food container lids. This was printed on a special chromogenic paper or plastic that often contains a silver halide emulsion giving it a subtle reflective / metallic look. The work stood out from others, instantly grabbing your attention when entering the exhibition space.

These three exceptional works were not enough, however, to brighten my experience of the show as a whole. I hope that this apparent trend of over-conceptualization does not come to dominate Australia photography. We have a talented body of technically brilliant photographers, and I would hate to see that skill subordinated to the over-conceptualization prevalent in other areas of contemporary art.

I believe that in generations to come ‘normal’ people will remember the names of artists who create visually beautiful works over those who create works that demand an exploration of concept to be truly appreciated.

Full Exhibition is available at the MGA’s Flickr page – Click here

born Australia 1982
Father and son
from the series Portraits of invisible people 2010
pigment ink-jet print
95 x 95 cm

born Canada 1955, arrived Australia 1984
from the series Are we not men 2011
pigment ink-jet print
90 x 67.5 cm