Striking portraits of Australian First Nations stock women who spent most of their working lives on cattle stations in far-north Queensland have won one of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes.
The National Portrait Gallery on Monday named a Sydney-based photographer, David Prichard, as the winner of the 2021 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize for his series, Tribute to Indigenous Stock Women. He wins £15,000.
Stock women’s labour typically involves a range of duties, from cooking and other homestead chores to maintaining the welfare of the livestock, often on horseback. Prichard took the portraits at the Burns Philp Building, a former store and warehouse in Normanton, Queensland, that was involved in the forced transportation of South Sea Islanders to work as labourers during the 1800s.
His four sitters – Kurtijar women Merna Beasley, Shirley Mary Ann McPherson and Gloria Campbell, and Gkuthaarn woman Mildred Burns – were also interviewed about their experiences as part of the project.
Campbell, who was a housekeeper and cook from her mid-teens, described the experience as “hard work from morning to night”. Beasley, who was employed at stations from the age of 15, said the satisfaction of working with horses and cattle was tempered by often harsh treatment she received at the hands of ranchers.
Reflecting on the series, Prichard said: “I have always been respectful of cultural and social sensitivities and subsequently built trust with the community, which led me to be invited to photograph the women. The project is not about me. I am only the vehicle for the women to tell their stories.”
The £3,000 second prize went to a French photographer, Pierre-Elie de Pibrac, for his series Hakanai Sonzai, which included portraits of Fukushima residents exiled from their contaminated homes following the nuclear disaster a decade ago. Other portraits were made in the former mining town Yubari, once known as Japan’s coal capital, devastated by colliery closures and depopulation.
The £2,000 third prize went to a Russian, Katya Ilina, for David, for a portrait taken from Rosemary & Thyme, a series that celebrates positive body image and questions notions of masculinity and femininity by highlighting their fluidity.
The winners were chosen from 5,392 submissions entered by 2,215 photographers from 62 countries. A total of 54 portraits from 25 artists have also been selected for display. The exhibition is at Cromwell Place in South Kensington, while the National Portrait Gallery’s building in St Martin’s Place is being redeveloped.
Chaired by Dr Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery director, this year’s judging panel included Misan Harriman, chair of the Southbank Centre; Mariama Attah, the curator of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; and Dr Susan Bright, a curator and writer.
Cullinan said the competition attracted entries from across the world and the shortlist “demonstrates the continued global appeal of the prize”.
Shane Gleghorn, the managing partner at Taylor Wessing, added: “Having supported the prize for 14 years, we have seen the breadth of approach to photographic portraiture explode in the last few years and, consequently, there is something for everyone in this exhibition.”