Paisley Street by Ben Dowling, winner of the 2020 Picturing Footscray Photography Prize

A visitor to Footscray and his portrayal of an encounter in Paisley Street has won the fifth annual Picturing Footscray Photography Prize.

Ben Dowling’s black and white photograph was selected out of 150 entries by judges Cameron Cope and Megan Evans to win the coveted $3,000 First Prize and $300 voucher from Ernest Studio.  

Both judges observed that the photograph raised more questions than answers.

“Is it blackface or a beauty treatment we see on the window of the salon? Is the mother in the scene pondering that same question while her child ponders the photographer? It's a puzzle that sparks the imagination and speaks both to the global Black Lives Matter movement and the cultural juxtapositions of everyday, local Footscray,” said Cameron.

Megan described the work as sophisticated in its composition with a clear directional gaze that draws attention to the sadly ongoing issues of race and racism.

“It talks of the painful experience of black bodies who are mocked by the act of 'black face' which is done with racist overtones.”

Footscray local Jody Haines was awarded second prize for her powerful self-portrait that explores the effect of isolation on the creative community.

“It is a strong and defiant response to the virus. The look is direct and engaging and doesn’t allow the viewer to look away,” said Megan.

The third prize winning photograph makes the viewer do a double take. It depicts a group who support Antifa – a powerful ideology that resists fascism and racism through the iconography of their nemesis. Narinda Cook captured the scene in her backyard, which, for Megan, embodied “a spirit of resistance that is associated with Footscray”.

Cameron appreciated the photographic standpoint, which “sits within an observational documentary tradition and successfully captures an arrangement of decisive moments”.

“The photograph also demonstrates an unexpected social license on the part of a parent, allowing the viewer a glimpse behind the scenes of a sub-culture more typically depicted with their guard up in acts of public activism,” he continued.

The Student Prize is the only winning work that doesn’t feature people. It resonates with absence – something we’re all familiar with now. Photography Studies college student and local resident Becky Blechynden highlights the quiet streets of Footscray in her photograph Waiting Welcome.

Cameron commended the photograph as a “tightly composed vignette of a Footscray icon - the Saigon Welcome Arch - that speaks to both the city's Vietnamese heritage and the paradox of public space amid the pandemic.”

The composition and colour relationships caught Megan’s eye, which “invite the viewer into the waiting space through the archway and into the light”.

Picturing Footscray is building a photographic modern history of Footscray. It has been documenting everything from changing streetscapes to changing faces, and this year portrays something no one expected – a global pandemic – through a local lens.

View all 150 photographs entered into the Picturing Footscray Photography Prize in the online exhibition until Friday 11 September.

Visitors can also vote for their favourite photograph for the People’s Choice Award, with the winner taking home $500.

Find out more about the online exhibition at www.vu.edu.au/picturing-footscray.