Ralph Kenke and Elmar Trefz win 2017 Digital Portraiture Award 


Ralph Kenke and Elmar Trefz (Kenke+Trefz) have won the National Portrait Gallery’s 2017 Digital Portraiture Award with their mixed media installation, Selfie Factory. Chosen from a selection of nine finalists, Kenke+Trefz were awarded a cash prize of $10,000 from the NPG as well as The Edge $15,000 professional development residency at the State Library of Queensland.

Unique in its departure from the 2D portrait model and focusing on the digital self-portraits associated with social media platforms, Selfie Factory downloads publicly accessible Instagram images with the #selfie hashtag, printing them out on receipt paper in photo booth style. The result is a steady stream of stamp-sized portraits vertically cascading into piles from five thermal printers mounted on the wall within the gallery space. Visitors are invited to engage with the work by uploading their own selfies while in the gallery, adding a real-time element to the ensuing images.

Kenke describes Selfie Factory as an investigation into the divide between online space and physical place and also as a way to measure the scale of online data.

Initially developed as part of Kenke’s research at the University of Newcastle, Selfie Factory evolved from a series of smaller prototypes and a collaboration with Elmar Trefz, a creative digital strategist. Together they now maintain the collaborative research practice Kenke+Trefz, through which they will continue to develop new versions of Selfie Factory, the next stage taking place during their Edge residency.

Among the finalists for the 2017 are Sue Healey’s evocative video portrait of 103-year-old dancer, Eileen Kramer, whose life as a performer began in 1939 when she became one of the first members of the Bodenwieser Ballet, Australia’s first modern dance company. Emerging Canberra-based artist Josh Owen looks at the human face of the refugee crisis in his video Treading Water, 2017, while Timothy Miller’s collaboration with Danzel Baker (aka Baker Boy), Blek Bala MJ, 2017, is eclectically inspired by Michael Jackson, traditional dance from Yolngu culture and the work of French filmmaker, Jean Rouch.

Judged by Daniel Flood, creative lead at The Edge, George Khut, lecturer in Art and Interaction Design at the University of New South Wales and Karen Vickery, director of learning and visitor experience at the NPG, the Digital Portraiture Award is held in addition to the NPG’s annual Photographic Portrait Prize and is designed to support the role of new media and technology within the field of contemporary portraiture.

Digital Portraiture Award 2017
National Portrait Gallery
1 December 2017 – 18 February 2018


News Words by Briony Downes