2021 Bowness Photography Prize winner announced

Art Almanac congratulates Melbourne artist Lillian O’Neil, winner of the $30,000 William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize for 2021.

The winning work is a large-format collage of found photographic images, enlarged, cropped and reconceptualised to create an enigmatic composition entitled Drawing to a close (2020). The work is tactile in its materiality, with collaged elements stitched together to prompt multiple interpretations and draw connections between subject matter and sensation. O’Neil’s practice is founded in archival processes by amassing material that she scans, cuts and wields adeptly into compositions that bind history to the present moment.

Winner 2021 Bowness Photography Prize $30,000 acquisitive award: Lillian O’Neil, Drawing to a close, 2020, pigment ink-jet prints, 183 × 183cm. 2021. Courtesy the artist and The Commercial, Sydney

‘I use photographic material found in pre-digital books and magazines to create large-scale, analogue collages. The aesthetics of obsolete print technology, with muted or no colour and varied textures, give me a kind of access to the past and make tangible lapses of time.

Through a long process of collection, cutting and editing, I re-contextualise groups of images and weave them into new scenarios where personal memories intertwine with cultural histories of ruin, loss but also more positive aspirations.’ — Lillian O’Neil, artist.

Over the last 16 years, the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize has emerged as an important annual survey of contemporary photographic practice in Australia and one of the most prestigious prizes in the country.

From over 730 entries, the 2021 judging panel: artist Del Kathryn Barton, Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) Director Anouska Phizacklea and Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Australia, Karen Quinlan AM; selected 52 works currently on display at Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne until 5 December 2021.

2021 Colour Factory Honourable Mention: Lauren Bamford, Easter egg hunt and Dot’s apple, 2021, pigment ink-jet prints, 30 × 25cm (each). Courtesy the artist

The finalists’ exhibition includes the recently announced Colour Factory Honourable Mentions: Lauren Bamford’s intimate and odd diptych titled Easter egg hunt and Dot’s apple (2021), Shea Kirk’s compelling and raw double portrait Dina Scintilla (left and right view) (2021), and Ali Tahayori’s altered family archive photograph that speaks to an undisclosed trauma, Sisterhood (2021); as well as O’Neil’s Drawing to a close.

O’Neil’s winning work is ‘a powerful large-scale collage that intelligently speaks to the cannons of art history, cultural memory and archival processes,’ says Phizacklea.

‘The work draws you in – it is both a united work and one that separates and breaks apart in front of you. It prompts you to question the associations made between the found images, as there does not appear to be one reading which makes it all the more enigmatic.’

Phizacklea continues: ‘There is intrigue, empowerment, desire and the female gaze present in the work that culminates in a seamless composition, one that has a tactile materiality about it as on close inspection the edges of each collaged element is visible. We are delighted that the acquisitive prize introduces the work of O’Neil into MGA’s collection with a work that demonstrates the complexity of the photographic medium.’


The public is encouraged to vote for their favourite work in the Smith & Singer People’s Choice Award.