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Tweed Regional Gallery | Grandmother Memorialised in Unusual Photograph

Sydney photographer Justine Varga’s large-scale work in homage to her grandmother has won the $20,000 overall prize for the 2017 Olive Cotton Award, announced in an official opening and presentation ceremony at Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah on Saturday night.
 
Varga’s work, Maternal Line, was selected from the work of 72 finalists, including emerging and established photographers from throughout Australia.
 
This year’s judge, Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), took a number of hours to make his final selection, saying Varga’s entry is “a very moving portrait of the artist’s relationship with and love for her grandmother”.
 
Lakin described Maternal Line as “a series of scrawls made by the artist’s grandmother directly onto a piece of film [which] has been printed at monumental scale”.
 
“While Justine’s work is very contemporary, she’s also deeply interested in the history of photography. It’s a very complex photographic portrait; it made me think a lot about the act of the making a portrait – about what it means today to make a photograph of someone else, even if in the end it doesn’t reveal what they look like,” he said.
 
The Papapetrou Family, a striking portrait by Sydney photographer Anne Zahalka, caught the eye of both Lakin and the Gallery’s Director, Susi Muddiman OAM. The theatrical and highly constructed portrait – depicting celebrated photographer Polixeni Papapetrou and The Age art critic Robert Nelson – was snapped up as the 2017 Director’s Choice Acquisition for the Gallery, using funds from the Friends of the Gallery. It was also one of five Highly Commended works chosen by the Judge.
 
Lakin also Highly Commended:

 
Visitors to the exhibition can vote for their ‘people’s choice’, with a $250 prize for the most popular finalist, funded by the Friends of the Gallery.
 
A record 492 entries were received this year for the biennial award, which is funded by Olive Cotton’s family in memory of Cotton, who was one of Australia’s leading 20th century photographers. Lakin is a keen proponent of Cotton’s work and was curator of the exhibition Max & Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain which was toured by the NGA in 2016-17.
 
A full list of finalists is available on the Gallery’s website.
 
The Olive Cotton Award exhibition will run until Sunday 8 October. The Gallery is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Entry to view the exhibition is free.