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Bendigo photographer wins $150K art prize

Bendigo fine art photographer, Lauren Starr, has won the $150K Bluethumb Art Prize, a contest which this year claimed the title of Australia’s richest art prize.

Midas’ Daughter II by Lauren Starr.

Starr is a part-time literacy teacher who only recently began shooting fine art photography, after working for more than six years as a portrait and baby photographer.

Her winning photo, Midas’ Daughter II (above), shows her six-year-old daughter painted gold, and lying on gold leaves. It’s inspired by the work of Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, a prominent member of the Vienna Art Nouveau movement who was fascinated with gold; as well as the Greek myth of King Midas, another gentleman obsessed with gold.

‘I loved the idea, as a mother, of having something to remind you of how precious time is and what is important,’ Starr said of her winning artwork.

Contest judge and award-winning photographer, Tamara Dean, describes the picture as ‘reminding the viewer of the true sense of what can be lost in the pursuit of possessions’.

‘An age old story, still as relevant today as ever,’ she said. ‘It takes us into a different world, a world steeped in symbolism. The work is beautifully staged and executed down to the finest details.’

Starr studied photography at RMIT about a decade ago, and while on maternity leave she launched a baby photography business in Bendigo. She tapped into a few fine art photography online courses, and began pursuing more ‘creative’ portraits.

It wasn’t until 2020 that she sold her first fine art piece – portraits to raise money for bushfire conservation.

‘It probably took me another 12 months to say, “yep, I’m an artist”,’ Starr says. ‘I didn’t grow up with a family that thought that being an artist was a viable career choice. I thought I needed a degree or a piece of paper [to prove I’d done it]. I guess credibility just came in time through experience.’

She know operates a fine art photo gallery and studio in Bendigo’s Art Precinct.

‘[Winning the award] is a real Cinderella fairytale-type thing – even being a regional-based female artist. It’s not always easy to crack into the art world with no connections.’

As Star highlights, it’s quite an achievement for an emerging fine art photographer. Photography is a bit of a black sheep of the arts, and isn’t held in as high regard as other mediums by collectors. Additionally, the rich institution-based photo and art prizes have a tendency to pick winners with an established profile, or be based on content that’s viewed as culturally or politically relevant.

For Starr winning the $150K, plus another $10K for the photography category, is a ‘life-changing amount of money’.

‘The word that comes to mind is freedom. It’s a life-changing amount of money. I could nearly pay off my mortgage, and then have the freedom to decide what it is that I do with my time. Or I could look at it as two years’ wages.’

The 2022 Bluethumb Art Prize was open to all artistic mediums, and categories consisted of Landscape, Still Life, Portrait, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander, Sculpture, Abstract, Digital, and Founders’ Award. The contest, in its tenth year, bumped the prize pool up to a massive $250K. Previously the Grand Prize winner was awarded $20K.

The contest was judged by Tamara Dean, Del Kathryn Barton, Blak Douglas, Kathrin Longhurst, Loribelle Spirovski, and Edward and George Hartley.

Check out the 2022 Bluethumb Art Prize winners.

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