PHOTO

St George Girls' High School students feature in Australian Photography Awards winning photo

Vibrant: The photo that won the documentary category in this year's Australian Photography Awards was taken outside an apartment block at Penshurst where students from St George Girls' High School were off to their formal. Picture: Janie Barrett
Vibrant: The photo that won the documentary category in this year's Australian Photography Awards was taken outside an apartment block at Penshurst where students from St George Girls' High School were off to their formal. Picture: Janie Barrett

A photograph that features a group of students from St George Girls' High School has won a national award.

Sydney Morning Herald photographer Janie Barrett was behind the lens in 2020 when she captured the excited students outside an apartment block at Penshurst before their school formal.

She won the documentary prize in this year's Australian Photography Awards.

This photo, part of a series on School Formals, features nine young people from nine different cultural backgrounds.

"Students completing their HSC in 2020 endured a year where many of their 'rites of passage' celebrations were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic," it stated alongside her winning photo.

"For a while it looked like they would not even be having their school formal celebration.

"After a campaign to lobby the government, they were given the green light."

Judges said the image was worthy of the major prize - a camera worth $4500.

"It captures the importance and significance of these events at a point in time when NSW was free of community transmission, during a global pandemic," judges said.

"When we think of documentary photography we often conjure up imagery of high tension and drama. Janie's image reminds us that importance can also be found within the quieter moments, the scenes less celebrated."

They said the photograph was a testament to contemporary Australia, all contained within a single frame.

"Each interaction between the individuals provides us another layer and story," judges said. "The plethora of expression and gesture leaves us with a sense of joy, a breath of fresh air amidst two long years of tribulation. As organisers, we feel that images like this can often be overlooked.

"The candid and restrained way that Janie has approached making this photograph brings us into the picture authentically. Our 2021 committee felt there was a genuine and non-exploitative approach to Janie's photograph which deserves to be recognised. It's a photograph which promotes connection on many levels and leaves us with a sense of optimism."

Australian Photography Awards (APA) is an initiative operated by Photo Collective.

Since launching in 2016, APA has become an important space for the changing ways Australian photographers explore big ideas.

Each year, it calls for original and thought-provoking photography. Photos can be taken anywhere in the world, just as long as the photographs are made by a person residing within Australia or any person living outside of Australia with Australian citizenship.

As an organisation that seeks meaning and hopes to promote understanding through photography, it endeavours to view imagery beyond its surface value, searching for layers and intent.

It searches for work which pushes the boundaries of what a photograph can be. It welcomes experimental, new and artful approaches to photography that may be overlooked in other awards.