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Sydney photographer Joel B. Pratley’s photo of a lone farmer immersed in a dust storm in drought-stricken Australia has won the 2021 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Titled Drought story, the portrait is of David Kalisch captured in the midst of an unexpected dust storm on his 1000-acre farm in Forbes, NSW. Pratley said his subjects’ stance reflects the resilience of a man pushed to the limits by an unforgiving climate. “David’s composure during the storm was surreal, because he is just so used to it. For me, it was like being on Mars.”

In making their decision, Judges Nick Mitzevich (National Gallery of Australia Director), Karen Quinlan AM (NPG Director) and renowned Australian photographer Bill Henson noted the haunting and surreal qualities of the portrait. “The vastness of the landscape turns farmer David Kalisch into an anonymous presence, leaving a space for us to consider our own place inside nature,” Judges said.

Both portraits are atmospheric and haunting, with a quality that makes them more interesting and mesmeric with repeated viewings.

Winner of the 2021 Highly Commended prize was awarded to Bells Beach photographer Julian Kingma for his portrait of young swimmer Tom cooling off in a storm-water drain during the 2020 Victorian lockdowns. Judges noted that the work, titled Tom at the drain had a “beauty, stillness and calm about it. “Both portraits are atmospheric and haunting, with a quality that makes them more interesting and mesmeric with repeated viewings,” they said.

Joel B. Pratley wins $50,000 in prizes, including $30,000 in cash from the NPG and the latest photographic equipment from CANON, valued at $20,000, and Julian Kingma wins an EIZO Colour Edge CG2730 Monitor valued at $4,000. The announcement took place at 11am today at the National Portrait Gallery and was also live-stream so finalists unable to travel to Canberra due to COVID related travel restrictions could watch the announcement from home.

NPG Director Karen Quinlan also announced new Distinction Awards for Lismore artist R.J Poole for his portrait Great conjunction and Jessica Hromas for Mark and Saskia cool off. The Distinction Awards are a new, specially tailored mentorship prize designed to continue the National Portrait Gallery’s commitment to developing and nurturing Australian portrait photography.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize is a stalwart of the National Portrait Gallery’s annual calendar, offering substantial cash and equipment prizes for professional, amateur and aspiring Australian photographers. For audiences, the exhibition offers an insight into the work of some of Australia’s best portrait photographers.

Karen Quinlan said that while the NPPP always serves up a rich tableau of humanity, the 2021 version brings particular significance. “While we see the bright celebration of identity we expect from works selected for the NPPP, the portraits also reflect the maelstrom that was late 2019 and 2020, and the darkness of a period that included wide-spread fires and a pandemic. Fittingly, we wanted to mark this exhibition by naming it Living Memory.

“As many parts of Australia are again in lockdown, the announcement of the NPPP winners will be livestreamed, and the NPPP finalists will be tuning in from their homes across Australia,” Ms Quinlan said. This year the NPPP judges, selected 79 works, more than double the usual amount - as a way of acknowledging the impact the pandemic has had on the creative community.

“We have increased the exhibition space in order to extend this opportunity to more artists, and we have also extended the duration of the exhibition until November, so more people can see it. As usual, all finalists’ works are included on our website for those who are unable to travel,” Ms Quinlan said.

Further prizes will be announced at a later date, including the Art Handlers Award, fetching the winner $2,000 thanks to IAS Fine Art Logistics, and the $5000 People’s Choice Award, supported by the David Roche Foundation. Audiences can vote for their favourites via the website below.

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