Review: William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, Monash Gallery of Art, Victoria

Review: William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, Monash Gallery of Art, Victoria

Now in its 10th year, the annual non-acquisitive William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize provides the winner and finalists with extensive gallery and industry exposure. The 2015 prize was awarded to Joseph McGlennon for his work Florilegium#1 (2014). The image was photographed in Madagascar, Tahiti and Singapore and is representative of a Florilegium landscape; a Latin term reconfigured in the Middle Ages meaning ‘to gather botanicals.’

The 47 works were selected by MGA Senior Curator Stephen Zagala together with two of Australia’s most significant art world figures, renowned Australian artist Bill Henson and Bendigo Art Gallery Director, Karen Quinlan. The prestigious $25,000 prize attracted 696 entrants, the largest number ever received in the history of the prize. Zagala says that searching through the hundreds of entries was a wonderful process: “It was an opportunity to be immersed in the currents of contemporary photography and to select a range of work that highlights the major trends and new developments.”

The finalists are deeply invested in photography and have employed the medium as a way of communicating a variety of messages to a range of audiences. Zagala says: “Whether professional or personal, experimental or traditional, the Bowness Photography Prize celebrates passion for photographic communication in all its forms.” The judges’ ambition was to find a work that gripped their senses. After considering a range of factors, the winning work needed to make a strong sensual impression. Zagala explains: “McGlennon’s photograph just kept drawing the judges back into its physical presence.” Peter Campbell, Daniel Shipp and Valerie Sparks were also awarded with Colour Factory Honourable Mentions, which acknowledges significant photographic expertise and talent.

McGlennon has created a Florilegium landscape from the Age of Enlightenment. Florilegium#1 was composed with multiple photographs. The Macaws in their glamorous poses are surrounded by a landscape of stunning beauty. Each feather holds faint reflections making the birds appear luminous against their utopian backdrop. A soft breeze could be imagined to swiftly ruffle the feathers and disturb their perfect form. Your eyes make their way from the Macaws down to the branch on which they are resting. One bird looks to the camera more inquisitively than the other. Adorned with an opulent floral arrangement, the mixed flora adds vividness to the scene as purples, greens and speckles of orange gently navigates gaze. The shadowing that envelops the floral arrangements accentuates the crisp forms and brings depth to the work making the atmosphere tangible and easy to sense.

With each photographer venturing down explorative paths, two fundamental themes stand out amongst the 2015 finalists. The first is the genre of landscape photography which Zagala says “…probably testifies to a heightened interest in both ecological issues and the geopolitics of place. But it might also be seen as a reaction against the petty narcissisms of social media ‘selfies.'” The other major trend sees an interest in the alchemy of analogue photography and the warmth of handmade prints. Zagala explains: “This is clearly a reaction against the cool homogeneity of screen-based photography.” There are works within the exhibition that have been produced with digital tools and technical techniques: Zagala believes that the audiences will be: “…both fascinated and perturbed by the fact that photography is not just a point-and-shoot proposition.”

The William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize will give viewers an insight into the issues that are influencing photography today. Zagala hopes that visitors “…are inspired by the creativity of contemporary photographers and that they leave with a sense of wonder for where photography will be tomorrow.”

Sara Sweet

William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, until 22 November 2015, 860 Ferntree Gully Road Wheelers Hill, Victoria, 3150.

For more information visit

Follow us on Twitter @AestheticaMag for the latest news in contemporary art and culture.

1. Joseph McGlennon, Florilegium#1, 2014, from the series Florilegium, pigment ink-jet print 127 x 100 cm
. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid (Sydney).