4 September 2023

Artist lands photography award for her most natural of works

| Sally Hopman
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artist Sammy Hawker with jugs and containers in a bathroom

Traditional is not a word in artist Sammy Hawker’s vocabulary – like this image of her developing film in a Broken Hill public bathroom during a recent road trip. Photo: Anna Hutchcroft.

Canberra artist Sammy Hawker has won the inaugural Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize – but her winning work goes way beyond that of a simple image.

Her evocative work, Caterpillars in Metamorphosis, won her the $2000 first prize in the PhotoAccess competition. The judges, visual artist Anna Madeleine Raupach, photographer Chris Round and director of PhotoAccess, Alex Robinson, described her work as an “exceptional blend of concept, process, and execution”.

The artist, who now lives in Canberra but originally hails from Cootamundra, experimented with the chromatography photographic process to create the winning work. And caterpillars.

“One morning, I found these caterpillars drowned in a trough,” she said. “I collected them in a jar, ground their bodies and turned them into a chromatogram.

“Chromatography is a photographic process invented by botanist Mikhail Tsvet in 1900.

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“While commonly used by scientists to read soil vitality, I’ve recently been testing the process’s ability to facilitate the expression of a wide range of vibrant matter. So far, I’ve had exciting results from human ashes, a placenta, a death cap mushroom (I was very careful!), many varieties of eucalyptus trees, and now with drowned caterpillars.”

She said when using the process of chromatography, the artist needed to set aside their expectations.

“The hues and patterns that form on the silver nitrate-soaked paper cannot be manipulated or controlled. The process speaks to the resonance and memory inscribed within materials – no matter what stage of metamorphosis they are in.”

Sammy said her passion was to work with materials “from site”, experimenting with everything and anything if it inspired her.

Seeing herself more as “a facilitator” than a photographer, she is a keen proponent of the land art movement established by a group of artists in the 1960s and 70s who looked at natural sites and alternative modes of producing art – to circumvent the world of commercial art.

Caterpillar Metamorphosis.

Sammy Hawker’s work Caterpillar Metamorphosis won her the inaugural PhotoAccess award for best contemporary photography. Photo: Supplied.

Land art is also inherently linked to the landscape, with artists of this genre preferring to use materials from the sites they work from.

For Sammy, it was the discovery of these drowned caterpillars – and the decision to process some of her images non-traditionally.

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“I love the idea of an artist having no control over their medium,” she said. “With some of the negatives, I processed them with salt water. I had no control over the outcome, which I loved. It will express itself however it wants.

“I think it is so important to go into an environment and not be the dominant voice. It is so important to let other voices speak.”

People are invited to vote for their favourite entry in the photographic prize for the People’s Choice award. More information is available from the PhotoAccess website.

Works in the 2023 Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize will be on show at the Huw Davies Gallery, PhotoAccess, Manuka, until 14 October. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 4 pm. Free.

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