2015 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Late last year, I entered a photographic prize on a whim, with a day before it closed. Before that point, I hadn't entered many competitions, and this was a big one, considered the most prestigious of it's kind in Australia. So, when I received a phone call that I was a finalist, I was understandably chuffed, a bit surprised, and also reassured about the quality of my work. Out of 2500 entrants, my image was one of 44 finalists. I organised the printing before I left Sydney for the summer, and the framing happened while I was in Europe (side note, Graphic Art Mount, in Sydney, now comes with my highest recommendation). My framed print ended up on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery before I had seen the final product. Cut to last Friday, 20th March. I'd organised to fly back from London on the 18th, landing in Sydney on the morning of the 20th, via Delhi, flying on two of the most heavily baby-populated flights I had ever encountered. Seriously, multiple crying babies within 10 rows, for 24 hours. But I digress. Arriving in Sydney, with little sleep, I then got a lift down Canberra for the 5pm opening and announcement of the winner. I also stopped in Canberra Target to pick up a shirt, because jetlag brain left my shirt hanging on a door handle.

Long story short, I was joined by a couple of my closest family and friends, who relieved the gallery of a respectable proportion of it's donated drinks. I didn't take home the win, didn't really expect to. I consider being a finalist in the 'most prestigious photographic portrait prize in Australia' as a big win, considering portraiture is something I take great pride in. I certainly can't begrudge the woman who won, Hoda Afshar, because her image was pretty marvelous (And I would do many things for photographic access to Northern Iran).

This is probably the point where I should post my image. It looks beautiful framed, and will be hanging on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery until June 8, before the exhibition travels to rural centres. Check it out, if you have the chance.


Seljavallaug, Iceland

I left Australia again. Only for 6 weeks this time, and only to the UK, Iceland, and a brief visit to Prague. As I write this, I'm in Vik, Iceland. Rather than go into detail, I'll keep this brief... Saving my energy for late nights chasing the Aurora Borealis.

For now, here's the current highlight of the trip. Seljavallalaug pool, nestled at the foothills south of Eyjafjallajokull (That volcano that erupted in 2010). I nearly fell in a semi-frozen creek on the 20 minute walk to find it. It's still the tail-end of winter, and the roads are icy. Even for a geothermal pool, it's not the warmest at this time of year..

But look at the view. Mountains on one side, and a valley leading toward the ocean on the other. 25 metres of serene bliss, followed by a near-freezing towel off and redress.


Return to the Trails

It's time for a confession. Throughout my teen years, and all the way through university, I was in love with Mountain Biking. Spent all my money on it, had little time for other sports. I almost lived on 2 wheels, to the point where, living on campus, I would carry a bike down a flight of stairs, just to ride it 200m to a mates room. When I bought my first camera, during university, I had grand visions of photographing mountain biking and other extreme sports. I went up the hill a few times, but the desire to ride often overcame the desire to stop and take photos of my mates riding. I started shooting concerts, which I'm certainly not complaining about.

Fast forward a few years, and I've shot concerts, portraits, events, travel, documentary, editorial, even some landscape. But I never shot mountain biking after the first year, which occasionally puzzled me.

Now that I've moved to Sydney, I also finally reconnected with some old friends that I rode with back in Wollongong (it's 90 minutes south). One of whom hand-builds his own custom frames, under his Ed Racing brand. His mention of an untested prototype, and the offer for me to borrow it, led to my grand reunion with downhill mountain biking one recent Sunday.

While I'm stoked that somehow I rode fast, hit big jumps, and didn't crash... I'm more stoked at catching up with 3 old mates, catching up on each of their big life events of the last few years, and actually stopping to take photos, like these.

Two Brothers Hunt

My younger brother's an avid hunter. It's one of his biggest passions, outside his family, and he's always finding excuses to get into the hills. He bought himself a new 4WD, this little noisy rock climbing shoebox. I had the ... pleasure (?) ... of picking it up for him and driving it down the highway from Sydney. Although an uncomfortable 7 hour ordeal, it did make for a more memorable drive down the Hume Highway than the many I made in the past. But that's not part of this story.

I was down in Albury a while back, with an idea for a potential photo project. Luckily, my brother was thirsty for a quick jaunt into the hills, and hell, so was I. The morning after I arrived, we woke at 4:00am, jumped into the noisy little Zook, and bounced up into one of his secret hunt spots. There's a photo of that morning buried in my instagram.

It was cold, the air was fresh, the sun hadn't quite come up, and I was feeling good about this first experimentation of my project idea.

We set off, stalking down a trail, and, unexpectedly to me, came across signs of a deer in front of us. My brother insisted we swap roles, his interest in me shooting my first deer apparently outweighing my interest in photographing him on the hunt. Just as the sun reached over the mountains ahead of us, and the leaves blazed orange, the two does passed our trail, pausing to look up at us, barely 50 metres away. Through the sight I saw the buck bound onto the trail, and without breaking his stride, disappear into the other side. Unlike my brother, I'm not a great hunter.

After a few minutes of clowning around doing handstands in the new sunlight, we walked back up the hill, and my brother took the chance to test his new 4WD. The mudguards were immediately, and unintentionally, ripped off.


Hunting's an interesting topic, and it can really divide people. I'm very passionate about environmental conservation and animal welfare, yet I have absolutely no issue with hunting for food, or conservation purposes. If someone's shooting introduced, or pest species, I'm alright with it, as long as they're hunting safely and consciously. I'm certainly not alright with people hunting protected and endangered animals, or people who act irresponsibly with firearms.


Culture on Cockatoo Island

I finally made it to Cockatoo Island. What was meant to be an afternoon of art appreciation (for Sydney's Biennale), became more of a photographic wander around the half empty buildings. I'm not sure what is happening in the art world, but it seems like multimedia and video are faaaaar outnumbering any other artistic mediums these days.

So, that's why we ended up wandering and taking photos. And, I'll just say, I want to come back.

Lunchtime Wanders in Chinese Gardens

  I've fallen far too easily into following a routine, now that I've settled down in a location, and have weekly commitments. After spending 3.5 years making plans from day to day, I moved to Sydney and started studying again. It's interesting to wake up one morning, 9 months after moving here, and realise that I've become very complacent in my curiosity and exploration. I'm becoming a creature of habit again. Things like class 3 days a week, lunch breaks at the same tables, on the same days, with similar food. Yoga two evenings a week (free at the community centre). A regular, and normal job. You know, habits. Sure, I had habits on the road, and in the other places I lived for the times I lived there, but it feels different here. Too comfortable.

But last week, things got mixed up a little. Not crazy mixed up, just the tiniest little amount, but enough to break the equilibrium. With an unusually long lunch break, and a partner in crime equally eager to do something different, I went for a wander. Instead of the usual metal bench, my comrade, Reni, and I, ended up at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. While I usually carry a certain disdain toward paying entrance fees, the recent granting of a student ID, and subsequent student discounts have made me slightly more compliant. That, and Reni shouted my ticket.

There's not much for me to say about the gardens. They're pretty, and look like Chinese gardens. Very relaxing, and their juxtaposition against the hotels and skyscrapers behind is entertaining. They were also very quiet, but that may have been because it was Tuesday.

But all this is just an introduction for photos. Yes, I took photos.

One Light, Three Portraits


I've been spending a lot of time in the studio lately. I'm still uncertain how I feel about it... I know I absolutely prefer shooting on location (wherever the location may be), but at least the studio affords a certain level of harmless photographic experimentation. This excessive studio time is a direct result of the Diploma I moved to Sydney for. Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that studying photography would be expected to foster this creative curiosity. But, speaking for myself, it's more often stifling than inspiring. That's not to say the isn't productive, or expanding my knowledge, or beneficial to my technique. It just often fails to provide inspiration.


Some days give me stoke. When granted free time in the studio, even just two hours, with an idea in the head and no assignment to shoot. These are the times when I'm inspired, having free reign over the insultingly large range of Broncolor studio equipment, and likeminded compatriots to stand in front of my lens while I juggle a ring flash, ND filter and f/1.8 aperture. 


That's it for now.


Jamming on George.

Friday night, George Street, Sydney. German 6 packs and Coopers longnecks on the ground. Josh, Chris and I are leant against a wooden construction door, waiting. The dolled-up party crowds are starting to thicken on the footpaths around us, ready for their new chance to 'paint the town red'. The drummer, Tom, arrives, welcoming us through the wooden door into the unfamiliar darkness beyond. We stop in the expectedly hip office on the first floor, searching for, then creating, a makeshift pick. Once armed, we start the ascent. The remaining 8 floors are empty, abandoned. Office space unutilised, unpowered, unoccupied. The building, apparently, is nearing its expiry. Waiting to be gutted, and built over the top of. Wrapped in fairy lights, an extension cord runs up the centre of the stairwell. The only power supply available at the roof, wrapped in the only light source for the rest of the building.

On the rooftop, a room awaits, a single worklight looped over the empty light fixture. 2 guitars and a drum kit, surrounded by a sea of leads, splintered drumsticks, woodchips and empty beer bottles. Beers opened, the room is enveloped by sound.