The biennial 2023 Olive Cotton Award for excellence in photographic portraiture has announced photo artist, Gerwyn Davies, has won the $20,000 overall prize for his image, Replica.
Replica was selected as the winning portrait from 72 finalist images, making Davies the 12th photographer to win the Olive Cotton Award, which was first presented in 2005.
The Award is selected by a single judge. This year that role was assigned to curator and critic Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham, who noted that ‘hiding is not something we associate with portraiture. A conventional portrait requires a subject’s presence and disclosure to connect with the world’.
‘Gerwyn Davies is keenly aware that revelation is central to portraiture and photography, and in Replica he engages with queer visibility politics to interrogate what it means to be seen and unseen, to appear and disappear,’ he said. ‘Camouflaged within an inventive tableau made from costuming, props, and partially harnessing new AI technologies, he creates a clever and joyous image that speaks to art history and narratives of place and time, with conceptual and aesthetic rigour.
A Fairfax feature profile on Davies from a year ago charts the artist’s rise, from photographing university mates liquored up in ridiculous costumes, to having Australian art dealer, Michael Reid, selling his work in Berlin. Davies came close to winning the last Olive Cotton Award in 2021 with his entry, Float, selected as a finalist and winning the Director’s Choice.
‘For every image shot, there are twice as many failures,’ he says. ‘It’s awkward and I feel quite vulnerable when I’m in the costume because I can’t see anything, and I get really self-conscious if there are people around.’
This year’s Director’s Choice, selected by Tweed Regional Gallery directory Susi Muddiman, goes to Ferne Millen’s No Labels Required.
‘This work grabbed my attention. The composition and narrative is strong. In creating a photo shoot for her portrait, Ferne frames a sense of potent, positive change. This is a portrait of a proud subject, within a portrait of our society on the brink of hopeful change.’
Muddiman also singled out the following works as deserving special attention: Stephen Dupont’s You should take it this way! 2022: A portrait of David Field; Dane Beesley’s Home; Vedika Rampal’s My mother dreams of Ghalib; Matthew Thorne’s Warren Ellis in his garden in Paris 2022, Jaka Adamic’s Chaos / Portrait of Toby; Riste Andrievski’s William Yang; Andrea Francolini’s I am what I am, and Gary Grealy’s Jude Rae_Artist.
The Olive Cotton Award garnered more than 600 entries this year. The finalist images culminate in an exhibition that’s on display at the Tweed Regional Gallery until September 24. Visitors to the Olive Cotton Award exhibition can cast their own vote in the People’s Choice Award. The finalist with the most votes will receive $500.