Aurukun portrait wins national photo prize

Liz Hobday |

Photographer Wayne Quilliam, left, has won the National Photographic Portrait Prize.
Photographer Wayne Quilliam, left, has won the National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Aurukun man Eric Yunkaporta was about to step onto the ceremonial dance grounds at a festival in remote far north Queensland, when photographer Wayne Quilliam asked if he could take a quick photo.

The picture of Mr Yunkaporta in his ceremonial headgear and body paint, titled Silent Strength 2021, has now won the $50,000 national photographic portrait prize.

Mr Quilliam says at the time he didn’t realise how important the picture would become, both to himself and the people of Aurukun, who were delighted when the picture was chosen as one of 50 finalists.

“I called Eric and told him the amazing news, they were just ecstatic because he was sharing not only his image but also the culture of Aurukun,” he told AAP. 

The Palawa photographer had met his subject only moments before he took the shot, but quickly realised he had photographed many of Mr Yunkaporta’s ancestors during more than 30 years documenting Indigenous communities.

It’s work that has taken Mr Quilliam all over Australia and the world, with his artwork also featured on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the 2022 Vivid festival.

Growing up in Tasmania the photographer was aware of his Indigenous heritage, but knew little of his culture and always had a sense of longing, he said.

Moving to the mainland, he began taking pictures of Indigenous communities, which led to invitations to document gatherings in the remotest parts of Australia.

“I’ve had the absolute privilege of being involved in rural, remote and urban communities for so long, they have allowed me into their lives and trusted me to tell their stories in the right way,” he said.

“Every person that’s been on this journey that has shared their story, their life essence with me, I thank dearly.”

Mr Quilliam plans to use the photographic equipment that comes with the prize to expand his work teaching photography in remote communities.

NSW born, New York based photographer Adam Ferguson’s picture of Guatemalan migrant Carlos Soyos and his eight-year-old son at a migrant shelter on the Mexico-United State border was highly commended at the award announcement on Friday.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize is currently on show alongside the Darling Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.