$30,000 photography prize now open

Brooke Boland

MGA Foundation has announced two changes to the 2017 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, now open for entries.
$30,000 photography prize now open

Image: Petrina Hicks, Venus 2013. From the series The shadows, pigment ink-jet print 100.0 x 100.0 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid (Sydney).

We’re more used to seeing photographs on a screen than in a frame of late. But prizes like the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize put the photo back on the wall where it can be respectfully admired. 


An initiative of the MGA Foundation, the Bowness Photography Prize is a major award for contemporary Australian photography which culminates in an exhibition at Monash Gallery of Art. Not only is the exhibition an important survey of contemporary photographic practice, the prize is one of the most prestigious in the country attracting the best Australian photographers competing for a significant cash prize.

This year the MGA Foundation has announced an increased prize of $30,000 for the winning work, $5,000 more than previous years.

‘The prize money goes to one individual rather than being distributed through a range of different nominations and commendations, which often happens with prizes. It’s a sum of money that can actually make a significant difference to one artist’s working life,’ said Stephen Zagala, MGA Senior Curator and 2017 judge.  

But there is another change to the Bowness Photography Prize this year. Due to the significance of the prize and its role in supporting contemporary photographers, it is now an acquisitive award. Winning works will become part of the prestigious Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection – the Australian home of photography.

It’s the change Zagala has been hoping for. ‘We started to acquire winning works retrospectively and kept asking “Why haven’t we got those great works that won in previous years?” We then approached the MGA Foundation, which funds the prize, and suggested that it be made into an acquisitive competition. After a decade of hosting the prize, it seemed important to take ownership of this aspect of MGA’s heritage. And it means that the history of the prize will continue to have a presence within our collection,’ he said.

‘We feel that the prize is an important and unique survey of contemporary Australian photography, and that it is an important part of our heritage as a gallery as well.’

Who is eligible

The Bowness Photography Prize is open to both emerging and established photographers. ‘We want to produce an evenhanded fly-over of what we think is interesting in contemporary photography, whether that is being produced by emerging artists or established artists,’ said Zagala.

All genres of photography are eligible, as long as the work has been produced in the past year. Entries will be accepted from Wednesday 31 May until Wednesday 12 July. The judges are interested in submissions by artists who incorporate photography in their practice and works that move away from the conventional framed photograph.

Each year a panel of three judges consider hundreds of entries and curates an exhibition of finalists before settling upon a single winner. This year’s panel includes Australian architect, art patron and academic Corbett Lyon, artist and educator Dr Susan Fereday, and Zagala.

‘We are open to all forms of photography. They can be produced using high-end digital cameras, antiquated film camera, or they could be photogram or lumen prints produced without a camera at all. And we are always interested to see how contemporary photographers are displaying their work, printed onto different materials or even projected onto walls, exploring where photography will end up tomorrow,’ said Zagala. 

The exhibition typically includes around 50 photographic works, which gives the judges enough breadth to cover the different genres and the different stages of professional practice.

‘It is really important for a museum like MGA, which has a strong investment in the history of photography, to be awarding prizes that recognise and celebrate the remarkable work of contemporary photographers’ said Zagala.

To find out more about the William and Winifred Bowness Photography visit www.mga.org.au/bowness-prize 

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.