Joel B. Pratley wins the National Photographic Portrait Prize for 2021

Our congratulations go to Joel B. Pratley who has won the National Photographic Portrait Prize this morning for their work ‘Drought Story’ a compelling composition which the artist captions powerfully; ‘Sometimes you think, why am I here?’. Pratley will receive over $50,000 in prizes courtesy of sponsor, Canon Australia.

Drought story, 2020 Joel B. Pratley

Following this announcement the work of 79 finalists will be on display in ‘Living Memory: The National Photographic Portrait Prize’. The artists were chosen from 3,000 entries by photographer Bill Henson, National Gallery of Australia Director Nick Mitzevich, and National Portrait Gallery Director Karen Quinlan AM.

This year’s exhibition title and theme ‘Living Memory’ refers to the seismic events of 2020, which are resonant in the present. In keeping with this focus on the unprecedented, the gallery have for the first time included more finalists, offered a supporting payment for every finalist, keep the show on for longer and in addition to the usual prizes, select finalists will receive career shaping mentorship opportunities.

Taking in the 79 works en masse we see that the contemporary individual and collective experiences of the pandemic preoccupy many artists.

Blue Light Hypnosis by Jill Velinos
Lockdown in 2020 gave way to a serious lapse in technology boundaries, as we all – adults and children alike – became much more dependent on it for our entertainment and connection to the world outside our home.

This manifests in imagery that explores mental and physical wellbeing, loneliness and isolation, our relationship with technology and poetic meditations on life and death. A parallel and equally major thread is the impact of the environment on identity and life experience, as artists catalogue catastrophic bushfires, drought, and also connecting to the splendour of being outdoors.

The Salway Family by Dion Georgopoulos
Aaron Salway, with his nephew Harley Salway 2. Just behind them is the ridge where Aaron’s father Robert, and brother Patrick Salway died protecting their property in Wandella.

Interestingly, and in keeping with these observations, you’ll notice there are many portraits taken outdoors as well as a heap in homes around Australia, leading us to consider both the external forces in life and our interior worlds.

Back to earth by Julian Dolman
I took this portrait of my father Michael a few weeks before he passed away. 

For those of you in Canberra, or able to visit, the exhibition of finalist works will be on view from Saturday 31 July for around 3 months thereafter. Happily all the finalist portraits and a little information on how they came to be can be accessed online, for a pre, repeat or remote experience. Visit the NPG’s online showcase here.

Additional prizes will be awarded in the coming weeks, namely the Art Handlers’ Award and a nod from IAS Fine Art Logistics. As you browse online you can cast a vote online for the People’s Choice Award and be in the draw to win some exciting prizes – and the winning artist will receive $5,000 from The David Roche Foundation.

If this year’s artists have sparked an interest in the genre, why not check out the exceptional creativity of finalists from 2007 to now!