'It Always Rains Before Kick Off' captures a young football fan feeling the rain on his face minutes before kick-off for the Tiwi Islands grand final.
'It Always Rains Before Kick Off' captures a young football fan feeling the rain on his face minutes before kick-off for the Tiwi Islands grand final.
5 min read


Meet the photography finalists capturing Australian life through a turbulent year

Capturing moments of "reflection, solitude and resilience," the City of Sydney's photography prize offers an insight into the past year and the impacts of COVID-19, drought and floods.

Published Tuesday 3 August 2021
By Jennifer Scherer

The City of Sydney has announced 28 finalists as part of their Australian Life photography competition, which showcases an array of moments captured in a year influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, drought and flood.

"Our photographers are certainly feeling the pain of COVID," City of Sydney Councillor Jess Miller told SBS News.

"They're vulnerable to creative and event industries being closed down due to COVID restrictions."

The works will be exhibited in Sydney's Hyde Park from 16 September, pending COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

"This photographic competition is so diverse and celebrates a really open interpretation of what Australian life is," Ms Miller said.

"There's everything from cabbage leaves hanging on clothes lines, to [performer] Maxi Shield representing the queer community, to new migrants - it's such a broad and beautiful mixed bag of interpretation.

"When you look at the finalists you are reminded of what a tough 12 months or couple of years it has been, as there are lots of references there to the drought and the floods, but also beautiful moments of reflection, solitude and resilience."

Here are some of the finalists.

Third Time Lucky

Freshly shaven and armed with a bouquet of flowers, 73 year old Leo waits to meet Rosie for the first time in Newcastle, NSW.
Source: David Cossini

Leo is pictured waiting in Newcastle, NSW to meet Rosie for the first time. He's described as being nervous and apprehensive in this image captured by David Cossini - but the blurb says he shouldn't have been.

"After a whirlwind romance Leo and Rosie were soon engaged and married. At 73 years of age, this would be Leo’s third attempt at marriage."

The Dengs

Snapped in Canberra, the Dengs have been in Australia since 2016 under the UNHCR refugee program.
Source: Rusty Crawshaw

Rusty Crawshaw was asked to take a portrait of Dabora and Malual Deng and their family through his father's volunteer work with the Canberra Refugee Support.

"We made an offer through the refugee support service to take family portraits of migrant and refugee families in Canberra," Mr Crawshaw told SBS News.

"I think this photograph captures that the family hold a real pride and gratitude for the opportunity that they've been given to resettle here."

The couple spent 17 years in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. Mr Deng was a soldier in South Sudan during the civil war and fled when his village was captured.

The portrait was taken in the family's living room in Canberra.

"For me, it was special to offer the families the opportunity to take their portrait, it's something nice they might not have had access to otherwise," Mr Crawshaw said.

"With such a large family it was difficult for the kids to stay still, the second that photo was taken, everyone was off, kicking a football."


In Blackheath, NSW, 'Youth' aims to evoke a feeling that arises often for young people; losing oneself in thought, feeling anxious and lost.
Source: Georgia Brogan

Photographer Georgia Brogan says she wanted to evoke a common feeling for young people in this image taken in Blackheath, NSW: "losing oneself in thought, feeling anxious and lost".


Each night in Capertee Valley, NSW, a family watches SBS in the front yard on an iPad as the world started to crumble under Covid-19.
Source: Nicholas Plevcak

"Each night we would watch SBS in the front yarn on an iPad as the world started to crumble under COVID-19", says the blurb for this image taken in Capertee Valley, NSW, by Nicholas Plevcak.

A Day In The Life of a Summer Holiday II

In the summer of 2021, Shelley Reis documented the activities of her daughter, son and partner as they began unwinding from the challenging year that was 2020.
Source: Shelley Reis

For Shelley Reis, the annual summer holiday to an old holiday cabin in Lemon Tree Passage in NSW was an opportunity to unwind.

"As a documentary photographer, most of my work is spontaneous ... it's about finding the composition in the moment and using the light, rather than setting up a scene in the way you would like it to be," she told SBS News.

"Every year when we go away, I take one day to shoot through the whole day and put together a collection of images I like for a series that's called a day in the life of a summer holiday."

Ms Reis says the photograph captures the unique personalities of her six-year-old daughter, nine-year-old son and her partner but also the euphoria of being able to have a holiday.

"It was a lazy experience after a difficult year with the pandemic," she said.

"My daughter started school, both my kids were home learning, my mum had a cancer diagnosis. 

"This year in particular, it was a relief to get away."


Two-year-old Sardie is cooling off in an esky as temperatures can reach to the 40C in Broome, Western Australia.
Source: Ingetje Tadros

Two-year-old Sardie is shown cooling off, in this photo taken by Ingetje Tadros in Kennedy Hill, Broome.

Maxi's Couch Potato

Maxi Shield, the popular Oxford Street drag artiste, broadcasts to her online audience live from Darlinghurst's Oxford Hotel, home to one of her regular gigs.
Source: Don Arnold

On Sydney's Oxford Street, Maxi Shield took her audience online when all venues closed as part of the city's COVID-19 lockdowns. Maxi started her own Instagram chat show, Maxi's Couch Potato, and is captured by Don Arnold behind the scenes.

Feeding Time On The Farm

In Denman, NSW feeding time at Michelle Phillips' camel farm is a daily scene to Gabriella, as she messages friends on her smartphone.
Source: James Brickwood

Gabriella, the daughter of Hunter Valley farmer Michelle Phillips, messages her friends during feeding time in this photo by James Brickwood.

Women's Bush Footy

Once a year, teams all over Central Australia travel to participate in the annual Papunya Carnival.
Source: Matthew Abbott

Women compete in the Northern Territory's annual Papunya Carnival, which attracts teams from all over Central Australia. This photo by Matthew Abbott was taken during what was only the second year of women's competition.

The rest of the Australian Life photograph competition finalists can be found on the City of Sydney website.

The winners will be announced in mid-September, with the grand prize winner receiving $10,000.

The public can also vote for a people's choice award for the first time, with the winner receiving more than $5000 in professional equipment.