Katrin Koenning has won the $30,000 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize for her photo, Three, from the series Lake Mountain (2018).
Three is a triptych, a photo or artwork divided into three pieces, that shows a ‘subtle and quiet’ bushfire-affected landscape of bush land at Lake Mountain in Marysville. The area was ravaged a decade ago during Black Saturday.
In her artist statement, Katrin wrote that climate change is a motivation to capture the landscape around Lake Mountain.
‘Increasingly extreme weather conditions are impacting destructively on environment and community. During the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires significant damage was caused at Lake Mountain, changing it forever,’ she wrote. ‘Continuing my engagement with ecological imaginaries, this triptych is part of a decade‐long, site‐specific work with a forest re‐growing from injury, a mountain who owns my heart, and climate change. Lake Mountain is a work of love and return, in dialogue with a wounded living world. It is a work about Earth in trauma – fighting, pleading we change our violent ways.’
Three was chosen from a shortlist of finalists, which was curated from nearly 700 entries. The shortlist apparently reveals Australia as a ‘multicultural, quirky, and extraordinary place’.
This is what the judges said:
Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Director: ‘Katrin’s work speaks with quiet restraint about an issue that will define our generation – the loss of our landscape and the destruction of our planet. It is a powerful reflection on an intense event that left our bush in cinders and took a horrific toll on communities with the loss of so many loved ones. The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires left an indelible mark on Victorians and its memory is a stark reminder of the frailty of our communities and the environment, and our susceptibility to extreme weather events as our climate changes. We are delighted that this work will join MGA’s permanent collection.’
Dr Christian Thompson AO, visual artist: ‘After a prolonged debate about the works we were delighted to announce Katrin Koenning as the winner of the Bowness Photography Prize with her haunting and compelling triptych work from the series Lake Mountain.
‘The triptych is a poignant and timely work that fits into a larger conversation about the transience and fragility of the vulnerable nature of the Australian landscape. It is a quiet and considered work that speaks to the seductive and ethereal nature of Koenning’s oeuvre. It lingers and stays with you, it not only presents the reality of the issues we are dealing with but contextualises and invites enquiry.’
Chris Saines, director of Queensland Art Gallery, observed: ‘Katrin Koenning’s triptych Lake Mountain is an understated but deeply affecting image whose appearance could hardly be more timely. As parts of the country burn with unseasonal regularity and intensity, Koenning reminds us of the lasting damage to the landscape when bushfires reach such a level of ferocity that forest canopies explode and trees irredeemably blacken and die, struggling to regenerate long after the fire’s passing. In a moving lament for this loss, Koenning takes us close into the forest floor of this otherwise beautiful Victorian Alpine region, where a relatively young stand of trees are still, a decade on from the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, all but bereft of living foliage. Even the undergrowth seems unable to right itself under the weight of what appears to be a light dusting of snow (albeit it feels, in this context, more reminiscent of ash). Bushfires, at the level in which we are increasingly experiencing them, can and do create their own kind of endless winter. Koenning’s eloquent requiem for Lake Mountain is a remarkably composed and restrained but still urgent and insistent cri de coeur. It asks us to reflect on the terms of our coexistence with nature, and their sustainability, in an age of environmental crisis.’
Katrin is a photographer from the Ruhrgebiet, Germany and relocated to Australia in her twenties. She was a Bowness Photography Prize finalist in 2018 and 2014, when she was also awarded the People’s Choice Award.
The finalist exhibition is on display at Monash Gallery of Art, ‘the Australian home of photography’, until 17 November.
Check out the finalist images here.