Sydney photographer wins $50,000 National Photographic Portrait prize

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Sydney photographer Joel Pratley has won the National Portrait Gallery’s Living Memory: National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) 2021 with his colour photo of farmer David Kalisch, titled Drought Story 2020, which captures the uncertainty and challenges of Australians affected by drought.    

Image: Joel Pratley

The competition received over 3,000 entries from which the judges, photographer Bill Henson, National Gallery of Australia Director Nick Mitzevich, and National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Karen Quinlan AM, selected 76 finalists.  

National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Karen Quinlan AM, said the image reflected the fragility and uncertainty of the times.

"In a quintessentially Australian landscape, we see one man, completely surrounded and immersed by a power greater than himself. It is an extraordinarily powerful image.” 

Joel says the winning image was captured as part of a photoshoot aimed at raising awareness for Rural Aid.

"Photography is also about being in the right place at the right time," he said.

"As I photographed David on his farm, an immense dust storm hit highlighting the enormity of the challenges faced by farmers and the overwhelming uncertainty of their future. However, through the potential bleakness of that moment, the sun shone through the clouds, offering a ray of hope.”     

A self-confessed storytelling enthusiast, Joel received his first career break as a SUNSTUDIOS Emerging Photographer Award finalist, when his image was spotted at the finalists’ exhibition by a TV director. He was offered a job to capture publicity stills for ABC TV show, The Unlisted.     

As first prize winner, Joel receives $20,000 in Canon imaging equipment and $30,000 in cash from The National Portrait Gallery. Asked what he would do with his prize money, Joel said he would donate some of it to David’s drought affected farm and use the remaining amount for a meaningful passion project. He is currently working on a project in Sydney’s Waterloo which tells the story of how communities, including the Koori community, are being impacted by the gentrification of the area.  

You can see the other competition finalists at

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