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2021 Bowness Photography Prize winners

Victorian artist, Lillian O’Neil, has won the $30K William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize for her large-format collage of found photographic images,

Drawing to a close (2020) by Lillian O’Neil.

The piece was created last year during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, while the Torquay-based artist was eight months pregnant. The press release describes O’Neil’s practice as ‘founded in archival processes’, whereby she collects, scans, cuts, and arranges materials.

‘I use photographic material found in pre‐digital books and magazines to create large‐scale, analogue collages,’ she said in the press release. ‘The aesthetics of obsolete print technology, with muted or no colour and varied textures, give me a kind of access to the past and make tangible lapses of time. Through a long process of collection, cutting and editing, I re‐contextualise groups of images and weave them into new scenarios where personal memories intertwine with cultural histories of ruin, loss but also more positive aspirations.’

Interestingly for someone winning a photographic prize, O’Neil is not a photographer and has never taken her own shots. Instead, she is an avid collector of old how-to books and encyclopedias from between 1950 to the turn of the century, which are used to source photographic material and create collages.

‘They’re a lot of how-to books or encyclopedias or that style, or photography annuals, books on ballet or swimming technique or natural disasters, a huge range of topics,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘I guess they are all books that have been made obsolete by the internet.

‘They are cultural artefacts of the last century that I find quite precious. It’s an important time to be collecting analogue material; there’s this amazing record of analogue photography in them.’

Here’s what Anouska Phizacklea, MGA director, said about O’Neil’s image.
‘Lillian O’Neil’s ‘Drawing to a close’ is a powerful large‐scale collage that intelligently speaks to the cannons of art history, cultural memory and archival processes. The work draws you in – it is both a united work and one that separates and breaks apart in front of you. It prompts you to question the associations made between the found images, as there does not appear to be one reading which makes it all the more enigmatic. There is intrigue, empowerment, desire and the female gaze present in the work that culminates in a seamless composition, one that has a tactile materiality about it as on close inspection the edges of each collaged element is visible.’

Check out more of her work here.

Other awarded images:

Ali Tahayori’s image, ‘Sisterhood’ (2021), which won the Smith & Singer People’s Choice Award and received the Colour Factory Honourable Mention.
Lauren Bamford’s image, Easter egg hunt and Dot’s apple 2, which won the Colour Factory Honourable Mentions.
Shea Kirk’s Dina Scintilla, which won the Colour Factory Honourable Mentions.

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