Above: Zach by James Bugg, winner of the $50,000 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, 2018. Credit: James Bugg.

Not Worthy of a Prize

This week James Bugg, a twenty-two-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, won the 2018 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize ($50,000). The prize is one aspect of Doug and Greta Moran's philanthropic giving in Australia.

The judges of the 2018 MCPP were photographer and curator Cheryl Newman, photojournalist and photo editor Jon Jones and Australian documentary artist Raphaela Rosella. Speaking of the winning photo, judge Cheryl Newman said, "I loved James Bugg’s authentic portrait of Zach from the outset. This portrait stayed with me throughout the judging process, as it is fresh, surprising and beautifully articulates life on the fringes of Australian society. In his hands, the lens does not exploit his subject. I was extremely keen to see work from emerging photographers and James at only twenty-two has fitted the bill perfectly. He is an exciting intelligent young photographer who is the perfect winner for a forward-looking prize such as the Moran." Judge Jon Jones said "James Bugg's image of Zach, standing in front of his friend's home ... is a beautifully observed, subtle and thought provoking contemporary portrait. His direct gaze and awkward stance, surrounded by the discarded pots and garden ornaments that speak of a different time, offers a glimpse of Australian society rarely visible."

The photo is okay. It is fine. To adjudge this photo as exceptional, subtle, or even interesting, is absurd. This is not a great photo. It is nothing special, and depends on photo-portrait conventions that have been in place for more than a hundred years.

Giving a prize to such a dull-and-bland photo does nothing for the wider reputation of photography. There are literally millions of photos (out of several billion) posted to the micro-blogging social media site Instagram each day that are as interesting as this picture. And turning to the judges' comments: "offers a glimpse of Australian society rarely visible," is patronizing, condescending, and elitist ... not visible to you, a metropolitan-living photo-editor, who clearly does not live in a poor area of town.

(9 May 2018)