Joel B. Pratley wins the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2021


Congratulations to Joel B. Pratley, who has won the 2021 National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) for his evocative photograph, Drought story.

Awarded at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and taking home a $50,000 prize, Pratley’s winning piece captures a lone farmer walking through the reddened haze of a dust storm, in drought-stricken Australia. The subject in the portrait is David Kalisch, shown in the middle of an unexpected storm on his 1000-acre farm in Forbes, New South Wales. For Pratley, the image illustrates the smallness of human presence within an unforgiving landscape, saying, “David’s composure during the storm was surreal, because he is just so used to it. For me, it was like being on Mars.”

This year’s judges—photographer Bill Henson, National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich, and NPG director Karen Quinlan—cited the strength of the image as not only compelling and ecological, but also existential. “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,” said the judges in a statement.

The winner of the Highly Commended Prize is Julian Kingma for Tom at the Drain, while The Distinction Awards go to R.J Poole for Great conjunction and Jessica Hromas for Mark and Saskia cool off. Further prizes will be announced at a later date, including the Art Handlers Award and the People’s Choice Award.

The winning works, alongside all of the 79 finalists, will be exhibited in the prize exhibition (chosen from over 3,000 entries), titled Living Memory. With isolation and solitude being strong themes from the time of Covid, many photographs also look at questions of personhood and identity. “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,” explains Quinlan. “Fittingly, we wanted to mark this exhibition by naming it Living Memory.”

All finalist works are also on the NPG’s website for those unable to travel.

Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize 2021
National Portrait Gallery

31 July—7 November

News Words by Art Guide Australia