Melbourne portrait photographer, Shea Kirk, has won the 2023 National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) for his photo Ruby (left view).
NPPP judge, Tamara Dean, describes the image as ‘unflinchingly honest, and true and humble. And in all of those things, really beautiful’.
‘He captured his sitter in a way that feels true. He is technically beautiful and perfect, you can see every detail. But while looking around the photograph, you just always come back to Ruby’s face. And I think that there’s a real strength in having captivated their character.’
Fellow judge, Daniel Boetker-Smith, found the picture to be ‘quite simple’ and ‘straightforward’ making it ‘really accessible, but I think underneath that simplicity, there’s a lot of stuff going on’.
The portrait is a half of a ‘stereoscopic pair’ and part of Kirk’s ongoing series, Vantages. Here is a statement from Ruby, included in the image caption:
‘I’ve always struggled with the size of my body from being extremely underweight to now being overweight. Over the past few years working with other photographers, making portraits, I’ve been processing my feelings about the transformation and how my body fits within society. I’ve begun to reclaim my skin, by designing symbols about my life so far that I’ve been getting tattooed. I’m starting to feel more at home in my big queer body.’
Kirk hadn’t met Ruby in person prior to capturing the portraits.
‘We just spent a few hours together chatting and making work, and this is what came out of that,’ he said.
Kirk likes to work slowly with his portrait sitters, with shoots taking between three and nine hours.
‘It’s about spending that time with whoever I’m working with. To talk through everything and make sure what we’re capturing is a true representation of self, that they get the opportunity to be their own voice and have that agency over the representation,’ he said. ‘It’s also really nice that I’m here with a work of someone who I consider to be a lovely friend, and also someone whose own art practice, I respect a lot.’
For Vantages, Kirk invites individuals to be photographed in his home studio in front of simple back drops. He wields duel large-format film cameras and shoots two black-and-white images of the subject from slightly different perspectives to ’emulate the viewpoints of each eye’.
‘In an explicitly contemporary take on traditional modes of portraiture, Kirk’s considered and methodical process facilitates an intimate exchange between photographer and subject, with the intention of creating a heightened sense of agency for each sitter,’ an National Gallery of Victoria description of Vantages states. ‘In this way, the series becomes an exercise for the sitter in representing themselves, defying the threat of reduction to a single vantage point.’
Kirk has come close to winning several prestigious awards with Vantages. He won the 2020 NPPP Art Handlers’s Award and the 2021 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize Colour Factory Honourable Mention.
Kirk wins $30,000 cash, and $20K of Canon gear.
Photographer, Renae Saxby, pocketed the Highly Commended Prize for Bangardidjan.
Click here to see more finalist images.