Diversity dominates 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize

The faces and stories of multicultural Australia are a major feature of the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Almost 3000 entries were put forward for this year’s competition but just 49 made it to the final shortlist.

The winning picture this year is Richard Morecroft and Alison Mackay by Sydney photographer Gary Grealy.

The Portrait Gallery has also highly commended two other pieces, Renaissance Rose by John Benavente and Mastura by Brett Canet-Gibson.

Even though the winner takes home a $25,000 prize, but the stories behind the portraits are priceless.

Twenty-eight-year-old South Sudanese migrant, Kuei Alor, is among the dozens of subjects with a harrowing life story to tell.

She remembers being held at gun point during a brutal civil war in her home country of South Sudan, which left her family malnourished and disease-ridden.

“We didn’t have food, we didn’t have water,” she told SBS News.

“This war was horrible and people were getting killed, women were getting murdered and raped. Children were getting killed.”

She was separated from her mother for 12 years after being sent to Kenya to live in a refugee camp.

She was just eight years old at the time.

“Nobody in the whole world actually is supposed to go through pain and suffering especially when you’re a kid.

“I was left for dead you know because there’s nothing they can do.”

Kuei is now an Australian citizen with an Australian husband and a young son.

“I feel very blessed. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to come to Australia especially people from my country.”

Kuei Alor
"We didn’t have food, we didn’t have water": Kuei Alor's portrait was taken by Kellie Maree Leczinska. Source: National Portrait Gallery

'Immigration stories are the DNA of Australia'

Sydney photographer Kellie Leczinska is behind Kuei's image, that has been shortlisted for this year’s portrait prize.

“Immigration stories are the DNA of Australia where there’s so many of us who have come from different countries,” Ms Leczinska told SBS News.

Sophie Wilde, 19, also features in one of the portraits, which shows her wild curly hair.

“Being a black woman there is this kind of conflict between the idea of having straight Caucasian hair and embracing your natural African curly hair. That’s also what makes the portrait so beautiful, having that freedom to be proud in that hair and to be proud in my heritage,” she said.

The photographer behind the lens for her portrait has his own story too.

Zelko Nedic migrated from Serbia and runs a hairdressing, make-up and photography business in Sydney.

“I came to Australia in 2000 with $170 in my pocket to be honest and I didn’t speak English,” he told SBS News.

The 49 portraits shortlisted for the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize go on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra tomorrow until Sunday 18 June.

The exhibition will then tour around Australia. For more information .

Sophie and Mercy
'Sophie and Mercy' taken by photographer Zelko Nedic. Source: National Portrait Gallery

3 min read
Published 31 March 2017 at 5:21pm
By Marija Jovanovic