A Central West NSW farmer standing up against a dust storm has inspired a national award winning photograph.
The image, by Sydney-based Joel B Pratley, was today announced the winner of the 2021 National Photographic Portrait Prize.
It captured farmer David Kalisch standing on his 400-hectare, drought-affected property at Forbes, during the widespread dust storm that swept across parts of NSW, Victoria and SA in January 2020.
Presented by the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the annual prize also had Bells Beach-based photographer Julian Kingma win a highly commended for his black-and-white portrait of a Victorian boy swimming in a storm-water drain near Geelong during the 2020 COVID lockdown.
Mr Pratley, a three-time finalist, said he had never won anything in his life.
"To be (a) finalist is a huge honour ... (but to win) is almost unbelievable," he said.
He paid tribute to Mr Kalisch's "surreal" composure during the massive dust storm.
"They're just so used to it," he said of Kalisch and his family.
"It dropped very little rain at the time, but to be out amongst that, it was just like being on Mars. It was incredible (and) the speed of the wind was ferocious."
Judging the prize, NPG director Karen Quinlan, National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich and acclaimed Australian photographer Bill Henson said they were drawn to the haunting and surreal qualities of Mr Pratley's portrait, Drought Story.
"The longer you look at this picture, which is of course the cardinal quality of interesting pictures, the stranger it gets and the more mysterious it becomes," Mr Henson said.
"The vastness of the landscape turns the figure into an anonymous presence ... and sends us back into our place inside nature."
Mr Mitzevich noted the portrait's arresting qualities, expert composition and ability to draw the viewer into the story.
"You can actually see the horizon run back, the shadows of the clouds and the detritus caused by the storm, and there is this ethereal light coming through that picks up the smokiness of it all," he said.
Mr Pratley will take home a cash prize of $30,000 along with $20,000 worth of photographic equipment.
Related reading:Sky turned black as dust storm rolled in
Kingma's photograph, Tom at the Drain, was commended for its beauty and mystery, with Henson drawing attention to the sense of vertigo experienced by the viewer due to the image's plane of focus and depth of field.
"It has a stillness about it, which is where photographs derive their power," he said.
The gallery also named finalists RJ Poole and Jessica Hromas, both from Sydney, as recipients of a new Distinction Award.
Acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on the creative industry, the judges selected 79 finalists - more than twice the normal amount - from a field of 3000.
Ms Quinlan said the selected portraits reflect the "maelstrom" of late 2019 and 2020, a period marked by devastating bushfires and a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
The exhibition, named Living Memory, opens on Saturday and runs until November 7.
Australian Associated Press