National Photography Prize 2020 Finalists

Ali McCann

Salon hang of colourful photographs

'Οι νέοι' is a photographic exploration of adolescence, nostalgia and the aesthetics of pedagogy, ideas Ali McCann often engages with in her artistic practice. The Greek title, derived from Hannah Arendt’s seminal essay, ‘The Crisis in Education’ (1954), translates to “the new ones” or “the youth”.

The series draws inspiration from diverse sources such as foundational art history publications, outmoded art-and-design text books, amateur photography magazines from the 1970s and her own teaching experiences. Through the deconstruction, modification and assemblage of found artworks and teaching materials, these still-life scenes waver between explorations of modernist aesthetics and the familiar haphazard outcomes of experimental learning.

The arrangements are captured in camera using hybrid photographic materials and techniques, melding traditional and contemporary image making processes.

Anthea Behm

Anthea Behm MAMA Installation

Appropriating images of the female form as captured by male photographic “masters” Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and Edward Weston, Anthea Behm reorients the predominance of patriarchal histories of art. In the series ‘DUST’ female figures by Man Ray interact on a single plane of photographic paper with shapes derived from the work of Moholy-Nagy, renegotiating the way in which these women’s bodies were treated as forms at the time.

Three newly developed large prints present a series of photograms focusing on Weston’s photographs of Charis Wilson highlighting the power structures at play in this relationship. These works also feature insertions of hives from Behm’s own body caused by the anxieties of our political present and patriarchal power of today.

Anthea Behm’s photographic practice challenges the traditional binaries of photography and gender, combining these elements onto a single plane.

Danica Chappell

Large scale coloured prints hang in MAMA foyer

In the series ‘Thickness of Time’ the act of making is an unseen performance. The development process of these abstract photographs is the result of long hours spent in Danica Chappell’s colour darkroom where the concept of time morphs into a tangible entity, pushing her body and mind’s limitations for hours on end.

The camera-less techniques adopted by Chappell to create these vivid photograms are tested over extended periods of time in the darkroom to reach a balanced complexity of colour and form, requiring rotation during each exposure to complete each composition.

Chappell activates installation spaces by presenting selected works in this series across custom made steel frames, creating sculptural and floating pieces that defy photographic conventions.

Debra Phillips

Monochromatic images in repetitive grids of different angles

This series ‘The Good. The Just. The Beautiful.’ Was instigated during a visit to the National Metrology Institute of Germany to observe the processes of manufacturing a perfect silicon sphere, as part of the international Avogadro Project.

The Avogadro Project aimed to determine a new standard definition for the kilogram based on data instead of on a physical object and proved to be a source of inspiration for Debra Phillips’ ongoing interest in systems of knowledge and understanding. The objects in these works are associated with the production of the perfect silicon sphere; silicon offset from the production process, a glass ring used in the polishing process and a digital 3D printed model produced to calculate sphere diameter topographies.

Each element focuses our attention to moments when knowledge systems, including measurement, collide with material objects, presenting us with new ways of conceiving the world.

Elise Harmsen

Black wall with monochromatic image of rental property kitchen projected on wall

Elise Harmsen’s practice explores the nuances of the digital image through examining its relationship to memory, time and space. Working between photography, video and projections, Harmsen often compounds found footage with ephemera from her own history as she explores multitudes of different possibilities for futures based on past events.

In ‘She moved it, it used to be there’ projected scenes from Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) are appropriated and merged with images of various homes the artists’ mother lived in, as advertised for sale on real estate websites.

Harmsen utilises darkroom techniques such as dodging, burning and masking to animate these found real estate images with scenes from the original film. Fixating on small features also recognisable in her mother’s home — a similar lamp shade or a wardrobe corner — these objects, characters and interiors from the film are delicately aligned with the architectural forms of her mother’s previous homes.

Emma Phillips

Giant polaroid style photographs pinned to the wall

There is a deep intimacy employed in the traditional, documentary-style photography of Emma Phillips which often reveals a slightly skewed but soft gaze in her subjects and the domestic and interior spaces they engage with.

The concept of truth can be staged, altered and played around with in the documentary photographic process allowing the artist to position a certain narrative or curiosity upon the image. Set around the focal point of the home, this series of photographs plays with ideals of domesticity, womanhood, memory and dreams.

Using a snapshot aesthetic, the pictures seek to hint at the illusionary space between gestures, words, doors and walls, and the deeply psychological terrain of the home. The photographs in this series are not a document of a time or place, but rather hope to give structure, form and feeling to an implicit “outsiderness” and subjective, feminine way of being.

Hayley Millar-Baker

Black and white constructed narratives

Hayley Millar-Baker brings to light stagnant histories in need of retelling and remembering. Digitally archiving, layering, cutting and repositioning individual images — each monumental in the stories they hold — she assembles powerful social commentary on the past, present and future narratives of herself and her kin.

‘A Series of Unwarranted Events’ portrays stories of the Gunditjmara people. From the fatal absorption policies and religious mission remains on Country, to stories of how the Gunditjmara would capture livestock from settlements and return to their camps through terrain unpassable by colonists, to the dozens of Gunditjmara lives lost to arsenic poisoning, resulting in thirst-driven drownings by Wannon River.

Millar-Baker’s ability to morph inherited histories into contemporary discourse can be observed through this photographic series, that serves both as a haunting reminder of an unforgivable past and as witness to the strength and resilience of the Gunditjmara people.

Justine Varga

Large rectangular photographic prints

Combining camera-less photography and lens-based works is a bold move, one that questions and challenges what photography can be, and Justine Varga demonstrates this interrogation throughout her practice.

The series ‘Areola’ presents repeating images in various stages of development, where the decisions made during the development are the focal point of the work. Additionally, the latticed window, a nod to the earliest surviving negative taken in 1835, shows Varga's acknowledgment of the past but determination to reimagine contemporary photographic processes.

Photographic paper, like skin, is porous and resilient, and in this series, Varga has imprinted her own pigment-stained skin onto negative surfaces. This skin-on-skin process reveals folds and creases not unlike the anatomy of the namesake this series refers to. Utilising tactile manipulations of the material surfaces she works with, Varga touches, smears and inverts negatives, layering and overlapping exposures to visually retain evidence of this physical process.

Kent Morris

8 blue, black and white geometric prints

Kent Morris’ practice reveals a continuing Aboriginal presence and patterns of Aboriginal history, culture and knowledge in the contemporary Australian landscape, despite ongoing colonial interventions in the physical and political environments.

The series ‘Barkindji Blue Sky’ was photographed on Kurnu Barkindji country after observing of a flock of kiinki (Corellas) perched on the infrastructure of a large telecommunications tower. This interaction between native birds and the built environment reflects the ongoing changes being made to ecological systems and nature, and the ability to adapt to a changing environment — a feeling synonymous with the way in which contemporary Indigenous knowledge survives and adapts.

Morris’ works are constructed from a single photograph where, apart from basic editing, digital information has not been added or removed from the original image. ‘Barkindji Blue Sky’ manipulates nature and built structures into new forms that reflect elements of Aboriginal cultural heritage and reinforces the notion of cultural resilience and continuity.

Lillian O’Neil

Full height collage in geometric arrangmement with figures falling in many directions

Working with analogue photographic material from pre-digital archives, Lillian O’Neil creates large-scale, highly detailed collages that explore intersections of time, nature, technology and varieties of human experiences. Sourcing images from archives, libraries, second-hand bookshops and book fairs is an essential part of her practice, providing a kind of reverie that, for the artists, is in distinct contrast to the infinite growth of digital images.

‘Compound Falls’ is made from images collected in Tokyo over a two month period while O’Neill was on residency at Youkobo Artspace. The second-hand books in the suburban area of Nishi Ogikubo, where the residency took place, revealed a localised perspective; interests of the people who live in the area are revealed by the books they have read. The fading paper and time-softened colours of the ‘Compound Falls’ images, have an inherent sense of time lapsed, of memory and of forgetting, staged as monuments to a disappearing photographic texture.

Phuong Ngo

Cathedrals burning in tandem in two different times and places

Sourcing historical imagery — a general curiosity now turned into an ongoing archival project — is at the core of Phuong Ngo’s artistic practice. His archival process is rooted in a conceptual lens-based practice where he seeks to find linkages between culture, politics and oral histories and history events, which in turn dictates the materiality of his artistic output. ‘Lost and Found’ forms part of an ongoing study ‘The Vietnam Archive Project’, established by Ngo in 2010, sourcing images and materials advised by the history of the French Colonisation of Vietnam.

In ‘Lost and Found’, found photography and global image archives are layered, interrogating the ways in which colonial systems continue to perverse the ways in which former colonised bodies relate to the world at large. The juxtaposition of global grief or support between the presented images is immense, highlighting how colonial ideologies impacted the way in which people value certain cultures and communities.

Sarah Mosca

Three large scale photographs with vague imagery

Sarah Mosca’s practice draws from theoretical texts on photography’s re-contextualising of the ‘gaze’ within contemporary feminist philosophy. Each work threads together sorrow and fiction to ask philosophical questions about truth, formlessness and aesthetics, exploring the sculptural nature and materiality of photographs.

Lee Miller, a surrealist and war correspondent is the focal point of these selected works. Historically nuanced as muse, lover and collaborator to Man Ray, her own photographic practice and resilience is often overlooked. Her key historical moments are explored and reinterpreted in this series of works; the post-war visual memory of Lee Miller sitting and washing herself in Hitler’s bathtub, her accidental light disturbance in Man Ray’s darkroom creating his historically recognised solarisation effect – all in order to divulge a hidden narrative.

Moving between photography, sculpture, process and research Mosca restages and represents historical narratives and mythologies in order to unveil ideas and truths that may otherwise be forgotten