by Joanna Gilmour

It’s been several months now that I’ve spent my working days at the table in a cabin on my brother’s property in southern Tasmania. I’ve watched autumn become winter from this spot. The vineyards down the road have gone from rudely green to utterly denuded. Dishevelled yellow leaves cling here and there to the spindly naked limbs of fruit trees, while kunanyi/Mount Wellington and the peaks around it are more likely now to be seen crusted with snow. Light diminishes rapidly as of four each afternoon and the animals in neighbouring paddocks graze on frosty grass in the mornings. …

Untitled, Conductors, Tramways series 1990 © Matt Nettheim

Around the corner from student photographer Matt Nettheim’s dilapidated Melbourne share house lay the Malvern Tram Depot. One day, camera in tow, he started hanging around, sensing the potential for some experimentation with lighting and composition. After a few months, having gained acceptance (unofficially) and permission (officially), Matt began heading out on the trams and asking the conductors if they’d pose for a portrait. It was 1990.

Matt was in the second year of his fine arts degree — majoring in photography — at Victoria College, Prahran Campus. Numerous artists represented in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection either taught or…

The Dance — David McAllister, 2016 Peter Brew-Bevan

With galleries forced to shut their doors for months in response to the threat of COVID-19, and only now planning carefully staged and restricted reopenings, art lovers have been converging on digital spaces to connect with the artworks and institutions they love. Taking advantage of social media as a site for creative engagement, art institutions have used campaigns such as #BetweenArtandQuarantine, #MuseumFromHome and #MetTwinning to inspire audiences to dive into their archives in the hunt for the perfect portraits to replicate and share online.

This global social media phenomenon follows an internal staff tradition at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery. Over…

by Emily Casey, 27 May 2020

‘It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that Country, just like to take a photo, but there’s the Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) and everything. Good to put it in a painting, your Country, so kids can know and understand. When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too.’ Shirley Purdie

Prior to the COVID-19-enforced closure of the National Portrait Gallery’s doors, its first gallery — the lead-in to the institution’s permanent collection — featured…

by Joanna Gilmour, 22 May 2020

Olegas Truchanas, 1971 Ralph Hope-Johnstone

On Friday, 20 March 2020, the front page of the Hobart Mercury featured little other than a satellite image of Tasmania and a pugnacious headline: ‘We’ve got a moat and we’re not afraid to use it’. Tasmania’s ports closed at midnight that day as the state acted to maximise its natural self-isolation as protection from the coronavirus cases multiplying on the mainland. 20 March 2020 was also the day I returned to so-called civilisation after a week-long bushwalk in one of the island’s fabled national parks. …

by Corinna Cullen, 18 May 2020

Mural of Italian/Roman actress Anna Magnani (1908­–1973) with face mask, April 2020 Unknown artist

In late February of this year, the COVID-19 crisis began to fill our screens with a maelstrom of images: healthcare workers in hazmat suits, and well-dressed Italians in increasingly empty streets, faces obscured by personal protective equipment (PPE). The face mask became the new constant, and brought with it a striking irony. Here in the west, preoccupied as we are with health and wellbeing — fretting over the ‘right’ food, exercise, stress and sleep patterns — we were forced to push our indulgences aside, and worry only about the fundamental premise of avoiding highly contagious viral microbes. …

by Jon Muir, 4 May 2020

Jon (Jon Muir), 2008 Ian Darling AO

In 2001 I was alone for 128 days. It was a self-imposed isolation that came in the form of a quest to walk solo across the continent of Australia, hunting and gathering along the way, using only my own energy to get me there. I’d never felt so alone before, but it wasn’t loneliness — rather an incredible sense of aloneness. For 24 years I’d been a professional adventurer, but this journey tested my endurance like no other.

In 1988 I climbed Everest, at a time when the mountain had been scaled fewer than 100 times since the ascent by…

by Tara James, 15 April 2020

Hell’s mouth, 2019 Cam Neville

COVID-19’s surreal emergence is not just a direct existential threat, but also a morbid monopoliser of the news flow. It’s become the only crisis in town, so to speak, which is quite the trick in this information age. It’s also been a brutal follow-up blow for an Australia still reeling from the recent bushfires. The word ‘unprecedented’ was in full deployment well before the current viral cataclysm, of course; it was applied repeatedly to characterise the relentless flames that scorched and shocked the nation from September 2019 through to March 2020. It’s right, then, to take a breath — to…

by Nici Cumpston, 6 April 2020

I was delighted to be one of this year’s judges for the National Photographic Portrait Prize, colloquially known as the ‘N-triple-P’. It was a rare but welcome opportunity for me to sit quietly and devote myself to looking closely at over two thousand five hundred photographs. As a photographer myself, I love nothing more than seeing what other people are creating with their cameras.

Focussing in on images and making a final selection required deep concentration and robust discussion, and became a most pleasurable experience due to working alongside two fabulous like-minded people: artist Naomi Hobson, from Coen in far…

Lady Barkly, 1863 by Batchelder & O’Neill, albumen silver carte de visite. Collection: National Portrait Gallery. Purchased 2014.

There was general rejoicing in the colony of Victoria when in mid-1860, Sir Henry Barkly GCMG KCB, the forty-five-year-old governor, married twenty-two-year-old Anne Maria Pratt, daughter of Major General Pratt, commander of the troops in the Australian colonies and New Zealand. The service, enacted at the raw, cramped Christ Church South Yarra, was discreet. The party comprised only the bride and bridegroom; Barkly’s daughter Blanche as bridesmaid; Pratt; Mrs Pratt; and Captain Foster, aide-de-camp to the major general.

National Portrait Gallery

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store