What does it take to win the $35,000 Bowness photography prize?

Entries for the William & Winifred Bowness Photography Prize are now open. Do you have what it takes to win?
What does it take to win the $35,000 Bowness photography prize?

Behrouz Boochani. Image: Hoda Afshar via Monash Gallery of Art.

When Monash Gallery of Art Director Anouska Phizacklea first saw photographer Hoda Afshar’s portrait of Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani – winner of the 2018 Bowness Photography Prize – she knew it was something special.

‘The image was extremely moving,’ Phizacklea said. ‘It is powerfully composed; it has a real understanding of composition and technical ability. It was also created in collaboration with Behrouz’.

And in Afshar’s case, the work was effective in addressing a question Phizacklea asks herself as an integral part of the judging process.

‘What is the artist trying to communicate to you through this work and has that been successful – that’s what I am looking for,’ she said.


Something Phizacklea found interesting about Afshar’s portrait was the process, which is one of the reasons she believes her winning entry was so compelling.

‘It was the collaborative relationship she cultivated with the sitter that created another dimension to the work,' Phizacklea said.

‘Hoda spoke face to face with Behrouz for a long time in addition to communicating with him on the phone and via text. I think it’s that connection you can actually feel – that emotional connection she has with her sitter. Having that relationship with the subject of the portrait gave it a different intensity.’

A lucrative prize for photographers

For the first time the prize pool for the Bowness Prize is worth $35,000 with the winner receiving $30,000 and the Sotheby’s Australia People’s Choice Award now valued at $5,000.

The prize has become an important survey of contemporary photographic practice and one of the most prestigious prizes in the country, providing Australian artists with the opportunity to exhibit at the Monash Gallery of Art.

Last year the size restrictions were also lifted from the prize, making it a more open prize that respects the diversity of photographic practice.

‘We want it to be the most open prize for photography and one that is able to represent the breadth of photographic practice. It means that artists can enter work that represents their practice – whether large installations or large-scale works,’ Phizacklea said.

Joining Phizacklea on this year’s judging panel is the Director of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Chris Saines, and acclaimed artist Dr Christian Thompson AO.

Having a diverse panel is important when critiquing the work, ensuring lively discussion and debate when deliberating over the $30,000 prize.

‘We are always really interested in having a very balanced judging pool, so we often try to get people who may not 100 per cent agree on things,’ she said.

‘It’s about being able to sit down and have a conversation about every single work and for people to be really engaged in the art form and that’s really special.

‘It’s an amazing experience to be able to sit around a table and really talk about the work with incredibly brilliant luminaries in the arts.’

Entries for the Bowness Prize are open from 29 May to 10 July. For more information visit: mga.org.au 

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Sabine Brix

Wednesday 29 May, 2019

About the author

Sabine Brix is a writer, editor, podcaster and electronic musician with a specific interest in personal storytelling that captures the essence of why people create. She was the former Online Content Producer at Archer Magazine and editor of the LGBTI website Gay News Network.

She has produced sound art for BBC's Radio4  and composed music for the web series Starting From Now, which screened on SBS. This year she released her debut EP on the French electronic music label Parfé Records.

Follow Sabine on Twitter @sabinebrix