Say cheese! National Photographic Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

I am a happy snapper from way back and one of those terribly over-organised people who dutifully have my photos printed and then neatly insert them into real, live photo albums.

Yes, how incredibly old-fashioned!

With my amateur interest in photography, a trip to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra was an easy choice.


The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is the go-to destination in Canberra for all things portraiture. Every now and then, I’ve seen snippets of various awards and unveilings in the news and the venue became firmly lodged on my Bucket List. What I didn’t realise was the size and scale of the Gallery, and the fact that it features photographic portraits, not just paintings.

In more normal times, ie. pre-Covid19, there are nine rooms of the highest quality portraits to explore, but the new normal meant that only three of the galleries were open to us. That was more than enough.

First stop, the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020.


Photography is permitted in the Gallery and I did my best to capture the finalist photographs, but I failed miserably. Below, I have borrowed a few images from the NPG website. If you want to see all 47 finalists, then check it out here.

Finalist: Brothers, 2018 by Steven Lloyd

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Nik was visiting his family over the Christmas break. I’ve been friends with his parents for years, but this was the first time I’d met him. I was there to take some family portraits.  I knew as soon as I saw Nik that he had a special look, which I wanted to photograph. That day I had the privilege of capturing the beautiful, happy emotions between Nik and his brother Rouli. The joy of brothers reunited.

Highly Commended: Eileen Kramer is a Dancer, 2019 by Hugh Stewart

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Eileen Kramer is a dancer. She moved back to Australia from New York when she was 98 because she wanted to hear a kookaburra. She is 105 this year.

As is to be expected when a diverse range of photographers lift a camera to their equally diverse mind’s eye, the subject matter covered a wide range of ages, settings and expressions. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people featured in both traditional and other environments.

People’s Choice Award: Wonder, 2019 by Klarissa Dempsey

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

This portrait is of my daughter Tayla. High-spirited, mischievous, intelligent, curious: these are some of the words that come to mind while thinking of her. Tayla always asks questions and needs to know the ‘why’; I love that about her. I love that she is one of the kindest souls you will ever meet, with the most caring heart. This moment was captured on country homelands, where Tayla spends her time playing endlessly with her brothers and sister and cousins, riding bikes, walking to the creeks, playing with the dogs and being carefree.

Finalist: Willie ‘Bomba’ King by Jason McNamara

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Willie ‘Bomba’ King is a local Ipswich resident. This portrait tells us who he is, where he is from, and what he does. Willie is a traffic controller, and the use of his STOP/SLOW sign was a great way of introducing his Indigenous heritage and showing just some of his happy-go-lucky personality. 

2020 is the 13th year that the Photographic Portrait Prize has been awarded. In my novice opinion, the extra special thing about this competition is that it is open to everyone – both professional and aspiring photographers. A nice bit of egalitarianism for a change.

Finalist: Johnny, 2019 by Nic Duncan

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Western Australian gold prospector Johnny doesn’t like a roof over his head. He prefers sleeping under vast starlit skies in out-of-the-way places, with just the bare essentials.

Finalist: Paul’s Smile, 2019 by Nic Duncan

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

The only thing warmer than the Marble Bar day was Paul’s smile as he posed for me between games of pool at the iconic Iron Clad Hotel.

I enjoyed the emotion that was captured in some of the photographs:

  • Sadness
  • Humour
  • Friendship
  • Love
  • Human connection, or
  • The simple ability to be comfortable in your own skin.

Finalist: House Painters, 2019 by Graham Monro

Finalist of 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Our tattooed house painters Taon and Tommy were a colourful, entertaining pair. The wonderful thing about the camera is that it gives your subject(s) their fifteen minutes of fame and validation. When you spend time listening to someone else’s story you are often rewarded, both visually and with a greater sense and understanding of the beauty of humanity. Taon is from the Gamilaraay clan of Walgett, New South Wales and Tommy is of French and Irish heritage.

Finalist: Quickly, Before it’s Gone, 2019 by Elizabeth Looker.

Finalist 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Jude and her granddaughter, Grace. This image reminds me of the ephemeral nature of our existence. How important it is to connect. Quickly, before it’s gone – a life, the light, the moment, time.

And often the most powerful settings were the simplest and, in their simplicity, held the most beauty. Who would have thought that the backdrop of an old shed or a chequered tablecloth could hold so much character and emotion.

Finalist – Lenny, 2019 by Karen Waller

Finalist 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Lenny Willis was born in the Tarcoola hospital in 1956. His mother, Gracie, a Yankuntjatjarra woman, married his father, Tommy, the son of Irish immigrants. With his ten siblings, Lenny lived on Bon Bon Station until the late 1960s. Today, Lenny lives in Kingoonya and works on Wilgena Station as a contract musterer.  In this harsh outback environment in the north of South Australia, I discover in him a warmth and generosity of spirit.

Finalist – Dad, Aged 73, 2019 by Natalie Finney

Finalist 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

A portrait of my father, aged 73. Dad moved to Australia at age eleven and lived most of his life in suburban Melbourne. Shortly before my first child was born he set out to return to Greece, despite the nation’s economic unrest and having no family there. Eight years on, our visit united us, and my children met their pappous for the first time. On the morning of our departure, his normal routine of coffee, cigarettes and radio news was accompanied by emotional conversations between the two of us. Here, he reflects on how and when we will next be together.

Even though our ticket only allowed us 50 minutes to view the portraits, it did not feel rushed and we were not hurried out. In fact, there were so few people moving about the Gallery that we were allowed early entrance. Maybe we chose the right day (ie. not weekend) and time to visit.

Winner – The mahi-mahi by Rob Palmer.

mahi mahi - Winner 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Josh Niland, head chef and owner of Saint Peter restaurant, is reinventing what can be done with fish, and – most importantly – with every part of the fish, in a huge effort to drastically reduce wastage. His trailblazing work has received enormous praise from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

Whether it’s painting, photography, sculpture or any of the other arts it is a real treat to see works of the highest quality. It is like a small injection of wonder and richness into the soul.

It won’t make me a better photographer, but it does make me look at the World around me with a slightly different perspective.

Snap! Click! Whirr!

Which of the above photos is your favourite? And how does it speak to you?

The Basics

What: The NPG has something for everyone. Stunning artworks, excellent coffee and retail therapy for those so inclined. Entry is free.

Postcard - mahi mahi - Winner 2020 National Photographic Portrait PrizePostcard - mahi mahi - Winner 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes (a suburb of Canberra).

When: Open every day from 10am-5pm, except Christmas Day.

Why: To expose yourself to some quality art.

How: Book your tickets here. Car parking is available right next door in a small carpark or a larger carpark is located over at the National Gallery of Australia. Just about all parking is metered in Canberra and be prepared to pay wherever you go.

Who: Culture vultures, amateur artists, coffee and retail addicts.

Related Posts: For galleries of a completely different sort in a completely different location, check the limitless range of galleries on offer in Broken Hill. Not a bureaucrat or politician within a 500km radius!

Related Blogs: Cast your mind outwards a little and see what the National Portrait Gallery in the UK is blogging about.

Read About It: For a very gentle read about a photographer, a housewife and a few bridges, curl up with a copy of The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Available from Book Depository for AUD$28.57.

National Portrait Gallery Canberra

#canberra #travelinspo #nationalportraitgallery #photography #portraiture #zoomin #laughterlines #art #saycheese

14 thoughts on “Say cheese! National Photographic Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

  1. Strange, mostly male persons on the photos and only one child. A bit onesided .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, or maybe these were the ones that appealed to my eye because of the character shown on their faces or in the setting? There are plenty others to choose from. It’s all in the eye of the beholder as that old saying goes…thanks for your thoughts.


  2. I don’t want to choose a favourite as they all reveal such character. What a great exhibition. And good on you for making photo albums still. Definitely something to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I suspect you could give these photographers a run for their money!! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Gosh! That’s praise indeed. I’m actually very shy of photographing people – and run a mile from their posing for me!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Maybe a new skill to develop in 2020 seeing we can’t travel?? 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. … or see people 😉

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed the National Portrait Gallery in London, so I bet I’d like this one, too. Interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am the first to acknowledge that museums and galleries are not everyone’s cuppa tea, but I love the quality of the art and the exceptional level of detail in the photographs. Each to their own.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have no aspirations to live to 105 but if I could look so sublimely happy and in love with life… 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. She is one amazing lady and I think this is a testament to the power of dance…or staying active at least!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I like the portraits you selected to highlight! I would enjoy a visit to this Gallery!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love these sorts of places where you can see skill/talent at its highest level. Just a wee bit envious. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

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