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Sammy Hawker wins Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize

Canberra photo artist, Sammy Hawker, has won the 2022 Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize (MCPP) for her work, Mount Gulaga, which was made using traditional photographic techniques.

Hawker captured a picture of Mount Gulaga on the NSW South Coast with 4×5 film, according to her artist statement, and processed the negative with ocean water collected from the site.

‘When processing film with salt water the corrosive properties lifts the silver emulsion and the representational image is rendered vague,’ Hawker’s artist statement says. ‘However, an essence of the site is introduced to the frame as the vibrant matter paints its way onto the negative. A ghost of Gulaga looms behind the abstraction ~ felt rather than seen.’

Hawker describes her approach as exploring ‘co-creation’, whereby she processes pictures by using natural materials from the site in an attempt to ‘interact with the more-than human in the creation of the visual image’.

‘The unpredictable input of more-than human agents in the processing of film disrupts her authorial control and breaks open the permanency of the photograph,’ her website states. ‘When working with a site Sammy will often work closely with Traditional Custodians, scientists, ecologists and other relevant practitioners. These collaborative engagements assist her in interpreting quantitative and qualitative data as well as developing ecological literacy and a cultural understanding of the site.’

The fourth MCPP is organised by the Australian Photographic Society (APS), an umbrella organisation for Australian camera clubs. The grand prize won by Hawker is an impressive $15,000 cash, making the MCPP a major Australian photo contest.

The MCPP provides photographers carte blanche in how they create their entries. An entrants work presentation can be ‘unrestricted’, with the only requirement is the image has been ‘substantially… produced by photographic means’. Judges are looking for a work that ‘illustrates an abstract idea and/or emotion’. This leads to an eclectic mix of finalist images, including some straight photos through to pictures which photography purists would claim has no place in a photography contest.

Previous winners have included ‘photo encaustic mixed media’ by Deb Gartland, as well as graphic abstract images by Judy Parker and Ian Skinner. There must be something in the water around Canberra that feeds the conceptual photographic mind, as three of the four winners are from the the relatively small capital city.

This year the contest jury consists of curator Heide Romano, NSW contemporary artist Alex Wisser and freelance photographer Bill Bachman.

An exhibition of the MCPP finalist work is showing at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (MRAC) in the NSW Upper Hunter Region.

Here’s a selection of finalist images, with the top three awarded Honourable Mentions.

Soup’s up! by Ben Blick-Hodge.


During the flood recovery in Lismore I helped clean up at a friends house, in all the flooded objects we came across a carousel of his family slides. I offered to take them and restore anything I could. Through the process of scanning, retouching and restoring the images I came across this image, deciding to leave it in the poetic state I found it. 35mm slide recovered in Lismore floods 2022 by Claire Conroy.


‘Moth’ is from the series SMOTHER, a reinterpretation of the life of the Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936) who adopted roles and disguises as a young circus performer and in her later life as a bushranger. Photographing Kandos locals in locations frequented by Hickman, I reveal her elusive identities in a historical context, where women shift like phantoms through the archives with names and roles ever-changing. Much like the mysterious, in-camera double exposures emerging from negatives in a darkroom. ‘Smother’ is circus jargon for a disguise. Exploring identity, the mythology of bushranging and the invisible history of women, these images pay homage to the solitary, camouflaged figure of Hickman. Moth by Julie Williams.
River, Mud & Silver Studded Boots is part of a larger project of Light Drawings. This project began as a response to the lockdown period in 2021 and has continued through 2022. Each unique chemigram originally created on silver gelatin paper encapsulates ideas of chance and uncertainty, an expression of the unknown and what has been felt during this time.
This work also draws from personal histories, growing up in rural Australia in the late 80s and early 90s, the mix of textures and imprints of the landscape with the contrasting embrace of punk fashion at the time. River, Mud & Silver Studded Boots by Simone Darcy.


Everywhere in the Sydney area there are deep water views. The movement of the water often reflects in splashes of light and drifts of fast moving patterns on the buildings. The early evening lights and small boat lights are reflected in deep water, taking on a magic velvet quality.
The city’s windows reflect the passing people and cares, flashing images or colour, undetermined shapes and chaotic patterns. So busy. In the city everywhere, the city structure predominates.
Night city-ness #1 by Lyndall Gerlach.

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