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The 2021 Olive Cotton Award winner is D-Mo for the portrait Vice Versa.

The Olive Cotton Award is a $20,000 biennial national award for excellence in photographic portraiture, presented in memory of photographer Olive Cotton.

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) discovered the art of photography in childhood and stayed committed to it all her life. She worked successfully as a photographer at the Dupain Studios in Sydney until the end of World War II. In 1964 Cotton opened a small studio in Cowra and took local portraits, weddings and commissions. After a 40 year absence from the city art scene, she re-emerged in 1985 with her first solo show at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney and then concentrated on rediscovering and printing her life's work. She is one of Australia’s legends of photography.

The exhibition in her name, hosted by the wonderful Tweed Regional Gallery, is selected from entrants across Australia and is a significant opportunity for established and emerging photographers. The winning work is acquired for the Gallery’s collection. The guest judge for 2021 was photo-media artist Michael Cook and the winner is D-Mo for the portrait Vice Versa.

D-Mo’s portrait is stunning, but don’t look at the cover of the exhibition catalogue (below) where it has been unsuccessfully cropped, look at the full-frame image (above) where the space at the top of the frame is (for me) an essential part of the composition and the story. So much can be read into that extra space and D-Mo left it in intentionally – why would a designer crop it out?

As an entrant (I was one of 75 finalists), I received the exhibition catalogue in the mail (you can see the flip book on the Tweed Regional Gallery website), the exhibition itself being unfortunately ‘curtailed’ because of COVID restrictions. It was a pleasure to flip through a real printed book and not just click on some pages on a screen. Print rules! Congratulations to the Gallery for printing it.

The finalists are reproduced necessarily small, no trouble, but I take great issue with the choice of design. Of the 75 photos, 68 of them are cropped square with a small asterisks next to each, indicating it ‘denotes image detail’. I fully understand why the photos have been cropped square, but the design is not just cropping one or two entries to fit into a design, it is cropping most of them. Surely this suggests the design is not appropriate for the exhibition images it is employed to display, especially since most people cannot visit the exhibition to see the original works as their authors intended.

Nevertheless, congratulations to the Tweed Regional Gallery and staff for running the exhibition and dealing with the challenges of our times. You can see the catalogue here: https://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/prizesandawards/olivecotton#about-award

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