Calling for entries to Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize

With supporting fees for all finalists, mentoring opportunities, and a remit to be inclusive in telling Australian stories, the National Photographic Portrait Prize sets new targets for its next edition.

It goes without staying – 2020 will be a year that we all will remember, etched indelibly into our very emotional fibre. For some, it is a ‘living memory’ that will go well beyond calendar dates.

It is not surprising then, that the theme of the next National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) – presented by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) – is Living Memory.

Sandra Bruce, NPGs Director Collections and Exhibitions, told ArtsHub: ‘From a curatorial perspective, we will approach Living Memory the same way that we do every year with the NPPP. The prize is a telling of Australian experiences. But this is the first time – in living memory – that we have collectively lived through such an extraordinary time.’

She continued: ‘We are anticipating a look through the lens of 2020 at some extraordinary portraits. To go back to last summer and the travesty of the bushfires – a lot of us just saw them on a screen – but to look into the eyes of those who lived them; then to [dwell with] family members stuck at home together during lockdown.’

We are acutely conscious our remit is telling people stories and finding points of connection.

Sandra Bruce, NPG.

The Gallery is currently calling for entries to its 14th edition of the Prize.


Bruce believes that when people immediately think of portraiture, it has a more traditional bent. ‘It is part of that Western artistic tradition, and when we look at the NPPP it is along that realist [vein] of capturing of a likeness – there is no getting away from it.’

‘While working within what might be considered a tight parameter can challenge some photographers or hem them in, I love that it expands their practice; I love that idea that they have to find ways to help that sitter connect with the viewer through the lens,’ Bruce told ArtsHub.

She added that while the medium of photography might encourage realism, a fresh face of that reality is the complexity and dynamism that is contemporary Australian society.

‘In this day and age what we are learning – and acknowledging – is that there is more to Australia than just the Western ‘anglo’ view, and we embrace that through our exhibitions and collection. It is exciting to see how people view themselves, and how artists express that [richness] to others in the NPPP,’ said Bruce.

Whether or not you make it to Canberra for the finalists exhibition next year, you will be able to view that full gamut of NPPP portraits online.

Bruce continued: ‘No person’s capturing of the lived experience of 2020 is too small. In the past, we have had people who’d taken their first portrait photo exhibit alongside someone at the top of the game, and that is a tradition we will keep, regardless of the year.’

‘Whether considered an expert photographer, a professional photographer, a newbie or amateur – we don’t mind. What we want are portraits that speak to them, and to others who view them. We want to see it all, because everything speaks to somebody.’


For the NPG, it not just about maintaining the tradition of the portrait prize at this time but to expand that opportunity for photographers.

So to make the NPPP more inclusive and supportive of more artists, the Gallery has also vowed to expand the number of finalists select this year by nearly threefold, giving them a professional boost to exhibit at the national institution.

‘It’s about recognising and commemorating what Australian photographers have gone through, and to give all the opportunity to speak up visually, regardless of the big moment or small moment that defined 2020 for them,’ said Bruce.

In addition to the usual suite of prizes, the Gallery is offering a supporting payment to every finalist selected.

The Gallery is also working to develop mentorship opportunities ahead of the NPPP exhibition, which will be awarded to selected finalists to support career aspirations.

Bruce explained: ‘We are currently reaching out to our sponsors and colleagues to develop those offerings, which might be anything from an afternoon with a leading photography curator, conservation or marketing advice.’ 

She added they were looking nationally to develop these opportunities.

This year’s prize exhibition will also be on show longer than ever before, extended to three months. Bruce said it was a pragmatic decision.

‘We still don’t know how the COVID living environment will pan out, and we wanted to give people the greatest opportunity to visit Canberra.’


Entries close at midnight (AEDT) on Tuesday 2 March 2021. The NPG are accepting photographs taken after 23 October 2019, up to March 2021.

The winner will be announced, 30 July 2021, and the finalists’ exhibition will run 31 July – 7 November 2021.

Prizes include:

  • The most outstanding portrait will receive $30,000 cash.
  • The People’s Choice will receive $5,000 from The David Roche Foundation.
  • Highly Commended will receive a ColorEdge CG2730 27″ monitor valued at $3,245 from Eizo.
  • The winner of the Art Handlers’ Award will receive $2,000 from IAS Fine Art Logistics.
  • Tailored mentorships to be announced.

See the NPPP Terms and Conditions and frequently asked questions.

Entries are now open for Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize!

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina