When generosity in art prizes pave the way

The National Photography Prize welcomes complete works or concepts still in development to encourage expanded thinking on the photographic medium.

The Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) is calling for applications to the $30,000 acquisitive National Photography Prize. Established in 1983, it’s the longest running photography prize in Australia. Despite its long history, however, the prize has moved with the times and considers photographic practices as an expanded medium. 

National Photography Prize 2022 winner Tiyan Baker tells ArtsHub: ‘The name [of the prize] can be quite daunting for people – especially for those who don’t consider themselves photographers – and I probably wouldn’t have entered if I hadn’t worked with MAMA before. 

‘MAMA was like a breath of fresh air in the way they work. They’re a really nice team who care about the artists so I felt comfortable putting forward something that I wouldn’t normally consider entering… I really trust them with my work.’

Potential entrants are encouraged to apply with either complete works, or concepts still in development. Artists also have the opportunity to develop new work for the finalist exhibition, where 12 artists will each showcase a small body of work at MAMA. 

Baker’s 2022 winning work, nyatu‘ maanǔn mungut bigabu(2021) comprises images taken on Bidayǔh native lands in Sarawak, where Baker’s mother used to play as a child, and experiments with autostereograms (also known as Magic Eye images, popular with children in the 90s). She explains: ‘For the autostereograms I just had to trial and error my way through, but I really liked the project and wanted to see it properly exhibited, which was why I entered the prize. When the work was included in a show in Perth it was during lockdown, so I wanted to see its full potential in the National Photography Prize.’

Funded solely by Albury philanthropists through the MAMA Art Foundation, the National Photography Prize offers generous support to exhibiting artists. Baker continues: ‘If you’re a finalist you get a pretty generous exhibition fee and you also get paid travel, accommodation and per diems to come to the opening and award announcement. The exhibition fee is what allowed me to refine the work a little more, as well as frame it properly, all factors that contributed to it winning. 

‘I haven’t been in any other prize that is that generous. This is what I mean about MAMA’s treatment of artists. So definitely knowing that you’ll be treated well should be really appealing to people thinking of entering,’ she adds. 

Tiyan Baker, winner of National Photography Prize 2022. Murray Art Museum Albury. Photo: Jeremy Weihrauch.

The Prize also offers a $5000 John and Margaret Baker Fellowship for an emerging artist, with previous recipients including Sara Oscar (2022), Hayley Millar-Baker (2020) and Ioulia Terizis (2018).

For Baker, who is now based in Newcastle, the $30,000 prize money was vital to sustain her practice and engage with the sector at large. ‘To be able to draw on it for things like travel… I find this is so important for artists to have that kind of money; it really fills the gaps when I’m not being reimbursed.’ 

Baker’s work was acquired into MAMA’s significant photography collection through the National Photography Prize, and also by Artbank, which saw her works from the finalist exhibition. 

Applications are now open for the 2024 National Photography Prize and close on 30 September 2023. Exhibition of finalists will open on 22 March 2024.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_