Capturing the spirit of Australia in a single image

Richard Watts

Transforming everyday Australian life into art is the challenge set by the 2018 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, which offers $50,000 for the winning work.
Capturing the spirit of Australia in a single image

Edwina Pickles, Australia Votes (detail), a finalist in the 2016 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize.

Look around you – out the window, across the room, down the street. Seen through the right eyes, and the right lens, what you observe could just win you the $50,000 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize.

Established in 2007 by the philanthropic Moran Arts Foundation, the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize (MCPP) celebrates all forms of still photography, including digital and analogue as well as staged and observed images.


Entry is open to photographers from across the country, with entrants invited to interpret the theme ‘Contemporary Life in Australia’. A focus on the diversity of everyday life is encouraged.

Respected international photographer Cheryl Newman, who returns to judge the MCPP alongside photojournalist and photo editor Jon Jones, said the broad theme gives photographers the opportunity to represent the richness and complexity of modern life.

‘There is huge scope to look at the intimate story as well as the bigger picture,’ she said. ‘I expect to see images that reflect both the political and the personal, the kitchen sink, family life or community. I hope to see photographs that document everyday life and events that make the news. It’s a great opportunity for the photographers to reflect and comment on the world around them, what they are passionate about and what inspires or moves them.’

Jones advised would-be entrants to photograph what they love and are passionate about.

‘It could be a photograph of loved ones or friends, a landscape you see every day, work or play, but whatever you choose, if you have a connection and affinity with the subject matter it will show in your work. Trust your instincts and don’t underestimate the normal and everyday as it’s often these situations that produce the most compelling insight,’ he said.

Learn more about the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize

The total prize pool on offer is $100,000, and everyone from school students and amateur photographers through to seasoned professionals are invited to enter.

Newman noted: ‘The prize is open to everyone but I am particularly keen to see work from exciting Australian artists both established and emerging.’

Jones agreed, adding: ‘We want to see photography that reflects the diversity, multiculturalism and uniqueness of life in Australia.’

Doing justice to the breadth of contemporary Australian life in a single image might seem a challenge, but by looking at entrants shortlisted for the prize in previous years it’s clear that photographing a nation is no different to photographing a person – it’s all about finding a way to show what lies beneath the surface, whether of a landscape, a face, a situation or a city.

As Jones observes, capturing a person's personality in a portrait and capturing the spirit of a nation’s daily life are inextricably linked.

‘Portraiture can celebrate the diversity, cultures and shared national identity that defines a nation in a powerful fashion,’ he said. 

Newman added: ‘I wouldn't suggest that a single image can sum up the spirit of a nation but I would welcome being proved wrong.’

Entries for the 2018 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize close at midnight on Wednesday 7 March. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 8 May at Juniper Hall in Paddington, with the Moran Contemporary Photographic Exhibition opening on Saturday 5 May and running until Sunday 27 May 2018.

Visit for entry details.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts