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2017 Olive cotton Award Winner Announced

The $20,000 winner of the 2017 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture was announced on Saturday 23 July by the 2017 Award Judge Dr Shaune Lakin, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia.

The winner of the 2017 Award is Justine Varga of Sydney. Her portrait of her grandmother Maternal Line 2017 was the stand-out winner for Lakin who said: “While Justine’s work is very contemporary, she’s also deeply interested in the history of photography. It’s a very complex photographic portrait: it made me think a lot about the act of the making a portrait – about what it means today to make a photograph of someone else, even if in the end it doesn’t reveal what they look like. But photography has never just been about appearance. It’s also been part of the way that we experience things like memory and relationships. The image – a series of scrawls made by the artist’s grandmother directly onto a piece of film – has been printed at monumental scale. It’s a very moving portrait of the artist’s relationship with and love for her grandmother.

Justine Varga travelled from Sydney to attend the opening celebrations and was honoured to be announced as the Winner of the Award, which Lakin called “the most important photographic portrait prize in Australia”. Varga remarked that although her grandmother had called her photographic methods “crazy”, she would be thrilled about the announcement, which was made during the week of her 80th birthday.

Varga’s portrait passes into the Tweed Regional Gallery collection, through the terms of this acquisitive prize and funds from the family of the late Olive Cotton.

Lakin also Highly Commended the works of:

Anne Zahalka from Sydney - The Papapetrou Family 2017 dye sublimation on chromalux metal – a theatrical and highly constructed portrait of celebrated photographer Polixeni Papapetrou, The Age art critic Robert Nelson, their children Solomon and Olympia and their rescue greyhounds Lexi and Mille.
Warwick Baker from Melbourne - Jed and Sam 2016 type C print – an intimate and moving double portrait taken in the couple’s bedroom;
Tina Fiveash from Sydney - Ghost 2017 digital print – a compelling and thought provoking image of a woman in a beach or desert location
Polixeni Papapetrou from Melbourne - My ghost 2017 screen print on gold metallic foil and linen – a haunting, poignant and beautiful portrait of the artist’s daughter Olympia.
Rod McNicol from Melbourne – Timmily 2017 digital print – a striking portrait in McNicol’s ongoing documentary of the ‘variegated’ inhabitants of his home in inner city Melbourne.

The Director’s Choice Award was the The Papapetrou Family by Anne Zahalka, acquired for the Tweed Regional Gallery's Permanent Collection through funds from the Friends of the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre Inc.

The Olive Cotton Award can be viewed Wednesday to Sunday 10.00am-5.00pm at the Tweed Regional Gallery, 2 Mistral Road, Murwillumbah South NSW 248 until Sunday 8 October. Visitors may vote in the $250 People’s Choice Awards which will go the artist voted most popular.

The exhibition catalogue can be viewed here 2017 Olive Cotton Award exhibition catalogue (3.43mB PDF).
The Winner and Awarded works can be viewed here 2017 Olive Cotton Award Winner and Awards (280kB PDF).

Olive Cotton Award

The Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture is a $20,000 biennial national award for excellence in photographic portraiture dedicated to the memory of photographer Olive Cotton. The winning work is acquired for the Gallery’s Collection. The exhibition is selected from entrants across Australia and is a significant opportunity for photographers living and working in Australia.

The Award was launched in 2005, and is funded by Olive Cotton’s family and dedicated to her memory as one of Australia’s leading twentieth century photographers. The Award has grown and gained national recognition attracting entries from well-known and emerging photographers across Australia. The Award boasts a major acquisitive biennial prize of $20,000, selected by the Award judge. In addition, the Friends of the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre Inc. fund $4000 for the acquisition of portraits from the exhibition entries to be chosen by the Gallery Director. Visitors to the exhibition may also vote for their 'people’s choice', which awards $250 for to the most popular finalist.

The Gallery thanks art dealer Josef Lebovic and photographer Sally McInerney, Olive Cotton’s daughter, for their ongoing support of the Award and also the Friends of the Gallery committee for their contributions, both financial and practical, to the Award and public program events. We also thank the many volunteers who assist with the huge task of receiving and despatching artworks and many other facets of the Prize organisation.


2017 Finalists Announced

The Olive Cotton Award 2017 is on exhibition from Friday 21 July to Sunday 8 October. The 2017 finalists are:

Matthew ABBOTT ¦ Stephen BACCON ¦ Donna BAILEY ¦ Warwick BAKER ¦ Vanessa BERTAGNOLE ¦ Jeremy BLINCOE ¦ James BRICKWOOD ¦ Rachel Sara BROMBERG ¦ Isaac BROWN ¦ Chris BUDGEON ¦ Margaret BURNS ¦ Daniel BUSHAWAY ¦ Brett CANET-GIBSON ¦ Eva COLLINS ¦ Michael COOK ¦ Michael CORRIDORE ¦ Christopher DAY ¦ Jeremy DRAPE ¦ Marian DREW ¦ Ella DREYFUS ¦ Stephen DUPONT ¦ Jenny EVANS ¦ Merilyn FAIRSKYE ¦ Jacqueline FELSTEAD ¦ George FETTING ¦ Tina FIVEASH ¦ Dean GOLJA ¦ Mike GRAY ¦ Kalem HORN ¦ Penelope HUNT ¦ Kelly HUSSEY-SMITH ¦ Ingvar KENNE ¦ Mark KIMBER ¦ Katrin KOENNING ¦ Thom KOTIS ¦ Jon LEWIS ¦ Michael MARZIK ¦ Joseph McGLENNON ¦ Jason McNAMARA ¦ Rod McNICOL ¦ Ari MESSINA ¦ Jacqueline MITELMAN ¦ Anita MODOK ¦ Matthew NEWTON ¦ Polixeni PAPAPETROU ¦ Travis PATERSON ¦ Zorica PURLIJA ¦ Krystle RICCI ¦ Renate RIENMUELLER ¦ Lynne ROBERTS-GOODWIN ¦ Julie RRAP ¦ David RYRIE ¦ Steven SIEWERT ¦ Roger SKINNER ¦ Tristan STILL ¦ Jacqui STOCKDALE ¦ Donna SULWAY ¦ Virginia SZARAZ ¦ Sarah TALAJ ¦ Angela TARLINTON ¦ CJ TAYLOR ¦ Craig TUFFIN ¦ Justine VARGA ¦ John WATSON ¦ Nicole WELLS ¦ Louise WHELAN ¦ Julie WILLIAMS ¦ Michael WILLIAMS ¦ Annette WILLIS ¦ Yiorgos ZAFIRIOU ¦ Anne ZAHALKA ¦ Sharon ZWI



Justine Varga Maternal Line

Justine Varga
Maternal Line 2017
chromogenic hand printed photograph from 5 x 5 inch negative
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2017
courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide


Winner Olive Cotton Award 2015

Natalie Grono
Pandemonium's shadow 2015
pigment inkjet print
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2015



Trent Parke Candid portrait of a woman on a street corner


Trent Parke

Candid portrait of a woman on a street corner 2013
pigment print
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2013




Dean_Tamara_Damien_Skiper_Olive Cotton Winner 2011


Tamara Dean
Damien Skipper 2011
pure pigment print on rag paper
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2011


A short biography of Olive Cotton

Olive Cotton
Adapted from information provided by Sally McInerney, May 2005.

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) discovered the art of photography in childhood and stayed committed to it all her life. Her mother was a talented painter who died young; her father, a geologist, had learnt the elements of photography for his journey to the Antarctic in 1907 and later taught it to his children.
Having graduated with an Arts degree, Olive Cotton worked successfully as a photographer at the Dupain studios in Sydney until the end of World War II, then moved with her new husband Ross McInerney, to the bush near Koorawatha, NSW. For 20 years she had no access to darkroom facilities, but kept taking photographs.

In 1964 Cotton opened a small studio in Cowra and took local portraits, weddings and commissions. After a 40 year absence from the city art scene she re-emerged in 1985 with her first solo show at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, she then concentrated on rediscovering and printing her life's work. A major exhibition of Cotton's works was shown at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000.



Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture 2015

2015 Olive Cotton Award Exhibition Catalogue (3.86mB PDF)


2015 Olive Cotton Award Winner Awards and Acquisitions (640kB PDF)
Last Updated: 24 July 2017