Victorian fine art photographer, Deb Gartland, has won the inaugural Australian Conceptual Photography Prize, taking home $10,000 for her ‘photo encaustic mixed media’ image, Self Reflection.
The Australian Conceptual Photography Prize, organised by the umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs, the Australian Photographic Society (APS), was divided into a grand prize of $8000, and a $2000 award for APS members. Deb won both.
The contest rules required entries to be ‘substantially produced by photographic means’, and accepted photo collage and mixed media.
Deb told Inside Imaging she is surprised her win hasn’t caused a stir among photography purists, given how heavily the work is manipulated from a straight photo.
‘I’m not a purist, and there might be some that look at my work and think that’s controversial because a (traditional) photo didn’t win,’ Deb said. ‘It’s not a straight photo, it’s a mixed media piece. But I haven’t come across it (criticism) at all. I really sort of expected it. At the end of the day I don’t mind if that discussion does happen. For me, winning this award is a culmination of five or six years I’ve been experimenting with my photos and working with this head full of highfalutin’ ideas.’
Deb added that she does take ‘straight photos’ and entered two composites, but prefers a left-of-field approach that pushes boundaries and breaks the rules of photography.
‘The line between photography and art is blurred for me. Someone once told me I was an artist and not a photographer, and at the time I was upset at that. I’m still a photographer and had to learn the rules of photography before I could break them.’
Before delving into what the flamin’ heck is ‘photo encaustic mixed media’ and what’s going on in Self Reflection, here’s how APS describes ‘conceptual photography’.
‘Conceptual photography is photography that illustrates an idea. Conceptual photography means that you have a very specific idea you want to share with your audience. It can be something rather simple like happiness or sadness or something more complex such as gender identities, existential issues and so on. The ‘concept’ is both preconceived and, if successful, understandable in the completed image.’
Self Reflection is an artwork created from a long-exposure ‘selfie’ taken one evening at Marengo Beach near Apollo Bay.
‘Photo encaustic’ is a process where a mixture of pure beeswax and damar resin is painted over an image to create colours and textures. First, Deb fixed the photo print to a wooden board with encaustic ground, an acrylic-based substance formulated to be used with wax.
‘There are different processes,’ Deb explained. ‘You can print photos on matte paper, but I printed this photo onto rice paper. I painted an encaustic ground onto the board, it’s sort of like priming a canvas with white paint.’
Encaustic medium – wax and resin mixture – is then painted over the photo and a variety of techniques are used to manipulate the print. For instance, a dry brush was used coarsely over the wax to create the textured white stripe in the middle, which is where the white water met the shore. The top of the image has glass frit shards bonded into the canvas with a layer of wax. Deb also uses pastels or oil paint, as well as an additional photo print, to enhance colour that’s lost when the wax covers certain areas.
‘Every time you put on a layer of wax, or medium, it has to be fused with a heat gun to make sure the layers don’t separate.’
Deb, who owns the Gellibrand River Art Gallery in south western Victoria, photographed the final piece and submitted it.
The contest was judged by Roger Skinner, APS contemporary group founder; Professor Denise Ferris, head of ANU School of Art and Design; and Anne O’Hehir, curator of photography at National Gallery of Australia.
Brisbane photographer, Anne Pappalardo, won the Emergent Designs award for her picture, When the son becomes a father.
An exhibition of Australian Conceptual Photography Prize finalist images is showing at Magnet Galleries in Melbourne until July 28. SC G19, Wharf st, The District, Docklands Melbourne, Victoria, 3008