Photographer wins $20,000 prize for a ‘portrait photo’ made of pen scribbles and saliva

Jul 27, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Photographer wins $20,000 prize for a ‘portrait photo’ made of pen scribbles and saliva

Jul 27, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Sydney artist Justine Varga recently won the $20,000 Olive Cotton Award for a portrait photo of her grandmother. Only, her work is not really a portrait, nor it’s a photo (at least not in conventional terms).

In Justine’s work titled Maternal Line, the grandmother doesn’t appear in the image at all. Instead, there are only her pen scribbles and traces of her saliva on a piece of film. And as expected, the fact that this work was rewarded the main prize sparked an outcry within the photographic community, leading even to some hate emails for one of the judges.

Justine was inspired by her grandma when she saw her sitting at the kitchen table with a jar of pens in front of her. She was testing each of them by making scribbles on a piece of paper. According to the artist, she wanted to capture the essence of her grandma and who she really was, instead of just capturing her face. So, she asked her to make the scribbles on a piece of film and later spit on it.

As ABC Australia reports, the artist sees the way she captured her grandma as being “timeless:”

She’s not a young person or an elderly person. I’ve just captured actually her and for me when I look at that I have a direct connection to my grandmother, the person rather than the exterior of the person.

Expectedly, the decision of the curators to award Maternal Line $20,000 wasn’t really accepted well. The entry fee for the contest is $33, but there are also the costs of printing, framing, and transport. Another thing is that the photo doesn’t show a person, and it’s a portrait competition. And another cause of negative reactions is that there was no camera involved in the process.

The resentment went so far, that Dr. Shaune Lakin, a senior curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia, started receiving hate mail from other contestants. He says he has received a lot of negative feedback, and many of the comments suggest this was just an attempt to create controversy. According to him, the comments like this disrespect the artist and “diminish what was a really complicated process.”

Although contemporary art usually isn’t really my cup of tea, there is one thing I know for sure – the art should always push the boundaries and the artists should “think outside the box.” And no matter how much I generally prefer actual portraits in the conventional sense of the word, I like Justine’s concept. She tried to capture her grandma’s essence in a different photographic process, instead of photographing her appearance with a camera. Maybe this artwork can make us discuss what a “portrait” means, and make us expand the meaning of the word. And with the new meaning, a lot of new and interesting portraits are yet to come.

[via ABC Australia, The Sydney Morning  Herald, image credits: Justine Varga/Tweed Regional Gallery]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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49 responses to “Photographer wins $20,000 prize for a ‘portrait photo’ made of pen scribbles and saliva”

  1. Kok Yoon Lee Avatar
    Kok Yoon Lee

    What a load of bull excrement :-D

  2. Daniel Scott Avatar
    Daniel Scott

    Clearly an attempt at getting attention.

  3. Ondřej Kadlec Avatar
    Ondřej Kadlec

    And we fools are photographing people on portraits…

  4. Najib Saer Avatar
    Najib Saer

    This the funny thing about all ‘art.’

    Genius to some, nutjob to others

  5. Snowy Duffield Avatar
    Snowy Duffield

    Well I for one am gobsmacked… Man that pun was awful

  6. Alan Newman Avatar
    Alan Newman

    *gets biro and profusely spits wondering why he doesn’t achieve the same success*

  7. Paul Richards Avatar
    Paul Richards

    It’s not a portrait photo. The judge should be ashamed

  8. Pan Pstryk. Dobry Fotograf. Avatar
    Pan Pstryk. Dobry Fotograf.

    Ridiculous. If it keeps going no photographer will ever take part in a competition like that.

  9. Ács Sándor Avatar
    Ács Sándor

    Its just a contemporary bla bla bla; not much!

  10. JZ Aamir Avatar
    JZ Aamir

    With a strong storyline, you can sell shit these days.

  11. Karen Padilla Avatar
    Karen Padilla

    Just the thought that he spit on a photo of his grandmother is disgusting. That he hated his grandmother so much that he would call this mess a portrait of her and that the judges accepted this into the contest, tells me that humanity is headed in the wrong direction. The thought that people touched this is disgusting. Excuse me, I have to go use lots of hand sanitizer.

    1. Ryan Malone Avatar
      Ryan Malone

      Someone didn’t read the article before ranting!

    2. Karen Padilla Avatar
      Karen Padilla

      I did read it and I still find using any bodily fluid to “create art” which resembles nothing is ridiculous. As a nurse – better wear gloves .

    3. Rona E Philpott Avatar
      Rona E Philpott

      No offense, the artist was a woman, and the grandmother’s saliva is on the ‘photo’.

    4. Ryan Malone Avatar
      Ryan Malone

      Also, it’s clearly NOT a photo of the grandmother, and reading his words, it’s pretty hard to consider his “portrait” hateful, much less a sign of impending societal collapse.

    5. Jeff Greene Avatar
      Jeff Greene

      Get your facts straight before you attempt to add to the conversation, please. The article clearly states, “So, she asked her to make the scribbles on a piece of film and later spit on it.”
      The artist is a woman, she asked her grandmother to spit on the film…

  12. Nevalee Hornung-Looney Avatar
    Nevalee Hornung-Looney

    Return the money and fire the judge. Reminds me of the story the emperor and his invisible clothes. The conclusion of the story…the emperor had been duped and the people laughed at his ignorance.

  13. Gabe Gargiulo Avatar
    Gabe Gargiulo

    Just shows the stupidity of the people who judged that this was true “art.”

  14. Lisa K Larson Avatar
    Lisa K Larson

    WTH????? What passes for “art” nowadays is ridiculous!

  15. Daniel Shortt Avatar
    Daniel Shortt

    Retarded.

  16. Bartosz Sypniewski Avatar
    Bartosz Sypniewski

    just stupid…

  17. Shannon S Avatar
    Shannon S

    The winner later gave half the prize money to the judge.;)

  18. Premek Marek Avatar
    Premek Marek

    If it was some other kind of competition, why not. Although it is not my cup of tea and I do not see it as “capturing the essence”, it may be considered art. It is not, however, portait photography, plain and simple.

  19. Joe O'Connell Avatar
    Joe O’Connell

    The author of this article is way off-base, too: “She tried to capture her grandma’s essence in a different photographic process, instead of photographing her appearance with a camera.” No. If it doesn’t involve a camera, it’s not a photograph – by definition.

    1. Dunja Đuđić Avatar
      Dunja Đuđić

      What about photograms?

    2. Joe O'Connell Avatar
      Joe O’Connell

      I’d say that it comes closest to a collage. In my understanding of a photogram (which could be wrong), the photographic material used needs to be used according to its intended function and not merely be present. In this piece, the film merely provides a surface for the pen ink and saliva to stick to, a purpose which could’ve been served by any other number of materials.

    3. John G Schickler Avatar
      John G Schickler

      Next it will be excrement on photo paper.

  20. Carlos Gouveia Avatar
    Carlos Gouveia

    fkn gibberish!!!!!

  21. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    Personally, I find this photo liberating, and the fact that it elicits such a strong response is proof of it’s power. The texture is beautiful yet chaotic, colors are haunting yet harmonic, and the concept is thought provoking and warm.

    If you have a problem with it, then that’s understandable. But if you don’t have specific reasons that you can articulate for not liking it, and think it’s okay to distill your criticism down to “it’s stupid”, then I feel sorry for you. There’s a whole world of high art that will likely always remain above your mental grasp.

    It’s not my favorite photograph. But I do appreciate it for it’s bold take on what a portrait can be.

  22. Alex Long Avatar
    Alex Long

    I’m usually pretty liberal when it comes to to defining fine art photography, but this is just stupid. There is no image, of an actual person, so it is not a portrait photograph. This metaphorical bullshit is why people devalue great photographers and artists. If this was a contest for modern art then Id say go ahead, but there is no recognizable image of a person here! If 99.9% of people can’t tell if its a portrait then it’s not. This whole art fad of throwing stuff on a canvas or film and saying you have to interpret it is lazy, there are no simple principals of design in it, no negative space, harmony, no expert use of color, it is simply a lack of portrait. The judges should be ashamed.

    1. tiger drum Avatar
      tiger drum

      Its total silliness..
      I feel drunk..
      Its like you say “good morning”
      to someone and the reply is …
      “good night”.

  23. Ingemar Kenyatta Avatar
    Ingemar Kenyatta

    I must admit that I like what she did here. I understand that many of us want these competitions to be purely technical. Or mostly. I get that. But can’t it be more? And as technology improves exponentially, the technical expertise required to make a portrait will matter less. New frontiers of creativity will matter more and more.

    1. Leo Falcon Avatar
      Leo Falcon

      While I accept the nature of “thinking out of the box” I believe that visual art should have a visual clue that is slightly evident. The problem of conceptual art is that it’s more of an philosophical essay and less of a visual piece. If the portrait doesn’t look like a portrait or give the idea of a portrait, and if it needs a text -not included in the photo- by all means it’s not a portrait. We use technicalities to create a difference between art. Trying to blur the boundaries is good but this was throwing away years of studies and concepts for the sake of a “concept” not a visual experience.

      1. tiger drum Avatar
        tiger drum

        Photography..
        I see none..
        I can fry eggs, send me 20,000$.
        I feel shocked..
        Are we on earth ?

    2. Jimmy Harris Avatar
      Jimmy Harris

      Sometimes when I think about digital photography, I think it’s a bit dubious for someone to claim themselves as the photographer, and not give credit to the camera’s designers instead. The camera metered and calculated the light, adjusted for the exposure, focused the lens, and developed the picture into the final form. All the photographer had to do was point and shoot. But is that enough to make yourself a photographer? And it’s not like they waited for, or elicited a seminal moment to engage the shutter. Most likely they took hundreds of shots, one right after another and picked one where the subject wasn’t blinking. Is there skill in that? Enough to call yourself a photographer? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s a far cry from what photography used to be. So to me, those using digital cameras and complaining that photography has to be an image of something to be a photograph seem a bit hypocritical. If a digital photograph can be entered into that competition, I see no reason why this couldn’t. Otherwise, should the award not have been given to Nikon, Canon, or Sony instead?

  24. Burt Johnson Avatar
    Burt Johnson

    I have often commented on how curators of “modern art museums” are so gullible that they let buffoons scam them into buying things like a large panel of all red (painted with a paint roller, all one color) and calling it art. Sounds like this judge comes from that school of non-thinking.

  25. Michael McCook Avatar
    Michael McCook

    By definition, this is not a photographic portrait in any sense of the definition. It may be considered art, but not photography. If this was an art competition (which it clearly wasn’t), then it has merit. A person can scribble or do whatever they want to a sheet of Cellulose Acetate, make up any ridiculous story and submit it to a photography contest (no I’m not suggesting this a made up story, just saying in the future it could be). I’d be curious to know the rules of the competition. Baffles the mind.

  26. wolfcry Avatar
    wolfcry

    While the idea behind this piece of art is interesting, since this contest was supposed to be restricted to portrait photography (probably with some guidelines about what was considered an acceptable submission), it seems a little disingenuous to award $20,000 to this person. However if their were no guidelines or it was something vague where anything goes, then fair enough I guess.

    I can understand the people who “followed the rules” so to speak feeling cheated by this. I’m sure a few of them could have come up with some off the wall weird concept, if they knew this was what the judges were really after. Guessing they got bored with looking at all the actual portraits and jumped on the first thing that was “different”.

    As a rule I dislike visual art that needs a description for someone to get something out of it. Even if it’s something odd or abstract anyone should be able to walk up, look at it, and get something out of it. Even if that something isn’t what the original artist intended. A piece like this is okay for a anything goes, abstract art contest, not one about portrait photography. I also dislike people getting exorbitant sums of money for said art. Looks like a scam to me. You could easily start doing this type of “art” with the sole goal of just getting galleries to give you money.

  27. TByte Avatar
    TByte

    If the photographers were required to pay a fee to enter the contest, they definitely deserve their money back. I would demand it.

  28. Duane Emmerson Avatar
    Duane Emmerson

    Someone is taking the piss.

    1. Renlish Avatar
      Renlish

      Someone is taking $20,000 worth of piss. :/

  29. Liam Bluck Avatar
    Liam Bluck

    groundbreakingly ridiculous

  30. Chris Chinnock Avatar
    Chris Chinnock

    What a complete load of fucking shit – I mean spit…. I can appreciate many forms of modern art, photographic or otherwise….but this? A complete lack of technique or skill…. Proof if it were needed that the lunatics have taken over the asylum!

  31. Derek Johnson Avatar
    Derek Johnson

    It was not a photo in a photography competition. Next year I expect to see paintings, sculpture and video all be submitted as photos to this contest. That is my issue. Portrait, that could be debated, but not photo.

  32. Michael Skelps Avatar
    Michael Skelps

    Beautiful! LOL

  33. Joshua Prieto Avatar
    Joshua Prieto

    It’s a lovely piece of art but…
    It’s not an image of a person at all. There’s not even a shadow of that person, which I’d accept as a portrait.
    Second the photographer didn’t make the art. She didn’t press a shutter and she didn’t make the etchings.

  34. Anthony Mehlhaff Avatar
    Anthony Mehlhaff

    ridiculous

  35. Bruce Alp Avatar
    Bruce Alp

    Absolute junk. It is an insult to those who create brilliant work.

  36. Renlish Avatar
    Renlish

    I know photography (and art in general) is completely subjective… but that’s beyond ridiculous.

    For all the warm-handed wankery behind the concept for the image, it is neither a portrait nor a photograph.