National photographic exhibition in final weeks

Yarra Ranges Regional Museum Exhibitions Curator Maddie Reece with the two local portraits by Tom Goldner and Ivan Gaal. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS. 352805_03

By Mikayla van Loon

With only weeks left to see the only Victorian showing of the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2022 (NPPP) here in the Yarra Ranges, showcasing an outstanding display of talent.

Yarra Ranges Regional Museum Exhibitions Curator Maddie Reece said it is quite incredible to host such a prestigious and well known exhibition in the photographic world.

“This national prize attracts a lot of attention and has provided the impetus for many people to visit Lilydale and the Yarra Ranges region,” she said.

Reece said given the timeframe of when these artworks were completed, the themes and messaging, although diverse, have an underlying exploration of self for both photographer and the portrait sitter.

In her catalogue essay, NPPP judge Sandra Bruce said “the NPPP offers a sweeping view across the nation’s experience, one that reminds us that our lives continue on regardless of wider circumstances” something Reece reflected on to be true throughout the exhibition.

“The works in the exhibition depict people adjusting to and finding their place amongst the anxiety of the pandemic, artists and photographers finding new ways of making work because of Covid and generally people connecting with neighbours and family throughout and post lockdowns,” Reece said

“More generally it captures a myriad of people from across the nation who are trying to find their places and their identity in society as a result of their own life experiences – sometimes these stories and portraits are incredibly sad and heart wrenching, but some are truly humbling, inspiring and empowering.”

Despite being supported by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to curate the exhibition, Reece said curators are given the freedom to draw out themes and stories “which means the exhibition display always looks different”.

“The themes we chose to highlight within the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum display prioritised First Nation voices, perspectives, and stories; the roles and experiences of women (from adolescence to elderly) in our society; defining our own identity; and love – the love of a hobby, place, experience, person and or self,” she said.

“The 2022 iteration of the NPPP also depicted remnants of Covid-19 lockdowns, instead of pulling this all into one ‘Covid’ theme we decided to frame it around finding joy, solace, and sometimes humour, in the obscurity of the lockdown situation.”

From 50 photographers named as finalists, the Yarra Ranges had two residents selected, with Tom Goldner and Ivan Gaal displaying works.

“Their inclusion highlights the high calibre of creative practitioners that call this region home. We are very lucky to be surrounded by a hugely talented creative community – it makes my job very exciting,” Reece said.

Exploring rather different stories, Goldner and Gaal have used both their personal history and friendships to develop powerful visuals through the camera.

“Tom Goldner’s photograph ‘You are loved’ features his mother standing in front of a lemon tree cradling a sculpture of a wooden face of an old man, once owned by his grandfather,” Reece said.

“It brings the artist’s family together into one image. The photo was captured in black and white and then digitally coloured with a warm autumnal palette that feels reflective of the Dandenong Ranges.

“Warburton based artist Ivan Gaal’s work captures activist and writer David Menadue OAM one of the longest survivors of HIV in Australia.

“David was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and he says in the artwork statement, ‘I have survived this long because of the love and support of my family and friends who didn’t reject me as happened to many HIV-positive friends, excellent doctors and the arrival of effective antivirals in 1996’.”

Some of the main judging criteria is the compelling nature of the portrait and the ability for the viewer to connect with the subject and this is for Reece a beautiful part of portraiture.

“The most impressive element for me is the courage and bravery of the photographer and sitters to share so much of themselves and their stories with strangers,” she said.

With the exhibition due to close on Sunday 3 September, Reece said it is the final opportunity to view another person’s story and perhaps connect to your own.

“I think people love exhibitions such as the National Photographic Portrait Prize because in the act of viewing the exhibition people can see themselves too, it shows them that they aren’t alone in their experiences.”