Sydney-based documentary photographer, Matthew Abbott, has been named the Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year for his ‘breathtaking’ portfolio that covers the devastating 19/20 summer bushfires, Covid in Australia, remote Austrlaian life, and the measles outbreak in Samoa.
Matthew also won the Nikon-Walkley News Photography category for his image, A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Lake Conjola, (pictured above) the standout image from the bushfires which became instant sensation.
‘At around 10 on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I saw plumes of smoke about an hour from where my family was staying in a coastal town three hours south of Sydney. I’d been photographing bushfires for nearly two months straight at that point, but when I approached Conjola, I saw unmatched mayhem: crowds trying to evacuate down a single country road as thick smoke rose above them. I drove towards where they were fleeing. On the first road I came across, every house was burning. I photographed remaining home-owners hosing down what they could, coughing, holding shirts against their faces to breathe.
‘Further down the hill a little after 1pm, I saw a group of kangaroos coming up the middle of the road, obviously running from another fire. One kangaroo ran right between myself and the burning house. I was able to make several frames of the frightened animal as it dashed past and then hopped away, safe – at least for the moment.’
The image appeared in the New York Times and was described as capturing the devastation of Australia’s fires ‘in one photo’. The likes of climate activist, Greta Thungberg, and many other celebrities shared the image on social media to bring awareness to climate change and encourage donations – a classic example of how a decisive moment can move the world.
Speaking about his portfolio win, Matthew said the last year has been a career highlight. ‘I feel honoured that I was able to work on one of the biggest international stories ever to come to Australia – the summer of bushfires – and that I was able to contribute to such an important news story driven by images. Having the work seen and shared by so many people gave me faith in how important what we do as photojournalists is.’
The judges described Matthew as having a ‘light-footed approach to photography’, and his ‘remarkable selection of shots’ tell a compelling story.
Sydney Morning Herald photographer, Nick Moir, won the Feature/Photographic Essay category for his series, Firestorm, also captured during the bushfires.
‘I have been studying the meteorology of fire weather and its behaviour for 20 years and this knowledge allowed me to target the day, time, fire and community that would be threatened. On the fire days, I watched the Bureau of Meteorology radar for the intense smoke plumes a strong fire would make to confirm my positioning.
‘Throughout the season, I was able to capture images of events and moments that nobody else had. In particular, the events of the ‘area ignition’ in Orangeville on December 5, 2019, where I captured a fire tornado and millions of embers, something that has rarely been photographed before’
The Sunday Telegraph photographer, Sam Ruttyn, won the Sport Photography category for his series, UFC 243.
‘UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya, took place in Melbourne on October 6, 2019, and drew a crowd of more than 57,000, setting a new world record for the sport. Sam Ruttyn’s action-packed body of work captures the elation of victory as well as the dejection after defeat. The mouthguard shot is a standout image.’