Picturing Footscray is a free open-entry photography prize that has been celebrating Melbourne’s unique inner-west suburb of Footscray since 2016, documenting a period of significant change. In 2020, this is particularly poignant.
Against the backdrop of home-isolation and a global pandemic, life as we know it has changed and we’re adapting with it. Welcome to Picturing Footscray, virtually!
The Prize invites photographers of all capabilities to capture the essence of this great location during this tumultuous time, with the added challenge of respecting physical distancing and self-isolation requirements.
We spoke with the 2019 Picturing Footscray Photography Prize winner, Matto Lucas, about what it felt like to win and why he finds Footscray inspiring to photograph. While the circumstances for this year’s competition have changed, the sentiments Matto reflect on still ring true – Picturing Footscray brings people together and fosters a strong sense of community. Now, more than ever, this sense of community is important.
Entries for the 2020 Prize open on Friday 12 June at 9am and close on Friday 31 July at 5pm. To find our more, visit www.vu.edu.au/picturing-footscray.
What do you find most inspiring about Footscray as a photography subject?
The diversity. Footscray is obviously going through a transformation, a gentrification, and there is a lot happening, but at its core it has such a strong diverse range of citizens, ethnic and social groups and such an exciting, vibrant and authentic spirit. Things feel real and raw and non-pretentious here and I love it. Footscray makes an excellent portrait subject.
What is it about Footscray that attracts photographers and artists to the area?
I think, just like all affordable suburbs, it attracts makers and creatives. Artists and creatives can flourish in affordable suburbs and work on their practice and really create inclusive and vibrant communities – until gentrification devours them of course and rich nine-to-fivers move in and jack up rents etc. We have seen St. Kilda the Bohemia for artists in the 80’s and Collingwood and Fitzroy shared in that privilege in the 90’s and early 00’s and now it seems the same is happening to the ‘scray.
You’ve entered the Picturing Footscray Photography Prize a few times before winning last year. Why did you enter the Prize and what did it feel like to win?
You have to risk it to get the biscuit! I try to enter my work, whether it is photography or other art mediums in as many prizes as possible. Sometimes it’s really good to just get a feeling for what people think, how the work is perceived or read. I’ve enjoyed every year I’ve entered as it feels so great to show your work amongst such a varied range – but I was speechless and so over the moon when I won. I’m often the bridesmaid and never the bride.
How do you think open-entry photography prizes such as this help to foster a sense of community? Did you feel part of a community when displayed alongside photographs by people from diverse backgrounds and photography ability?
I applaud it – I’m a big advocate for inclusivity and I think it’s brilliant that it’s open access and really showcases a diverse range of perspectives and abilities. The prize gives a platform to promote perspectives and talents that might be difficult to discover otherwise.
In this current state of lock-down, what tips do you have for beginner photographers thinking of entering this year and tackling the subject from home?
I’m not going to lie, these current quarantine lockdowns make creative work (whether it is photography based or other creative practices) difficult, however, it is merely a new hurdle we have to creatively interpret as artists.
I think that we have an opportunity now to make, and really make work, what we enjoy and brings joy. I don’t want to sound like those obnoxious Instagram ads telling you to “get the perfect quarantine body” or “start that side hustle” because now we “have time” – because we are all trying to live through a crisis, so our brains and creative brain aren’t operating as we are used too. But I would say, in a romantic sense, we have a moment of time and a moment to experiment with photographic practices.
One way to consider this new brief, I mean in relation to subjects, I would be looking introspectively. We can look at how self-portraiture, the faces, people and homes/inhabitants of this suburb are, in a way, what makes it unique. Of course, we could shoot empty streets and empty bars, but the architecture (regardless of whether it is full of people or eerily empty due to quarantine) is only one small part of what makes Footscray Footscray – for me it’s the people, as seen in my 2019 winning piece, which was an alive room, a dance floor full of people.
That being said, I entered a portrait piece one year that didn’t do too well!
The excellent thing is that at the moment, all systems are being reset and new structures are being put in place, these moving wheels give us an opportunity, with nothing to lose, why not try something completely out of the realm of what is considered a “portrait” or a “photograph”?