Personality key to a stunning portrait

WOLLONGONG CITY GALLERY FRIENDS PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT PRIZE

March 1 to June 23

Opening night tonight, 6pm

Wollongong City Gallery

A portrait can be very revealing. Taken with the right light, the right frame and, most importantly, the right feeling, a photograph can show what is going on in its subject's head.

But there is no right or wrong way to do it. There are a thousand things that can work together to create a perfect portrait - it's all down to personal style.

Artist Arja Valimaki is entering the Wollongong City Gallery Friends Photographic Portrait Prize for the first time this year and believes the key to capturing something amazing in a portrait shot is to connect with your model.

"I like the models to feel at ease and relaxed so I try to select poses, surroundings and clothing they feel comfortable in. I think it's important to communicate with the model."

Her preference is to include the subject's surroundings in the shot, rather than taking a close-up, because she thinks it adds an extra element to the picture.

For example, the image she has entered into the portrait prize, Following her awakening in the light, was taken in Blackbutt Forest to reflect the fact her model spent her childhood growing up in the dense forests of Germany. They spent the afternoon taking more than 160 shots before selecting the right one to enter into the competition.

Valimaki, who was the gallery's artist in residence in 1999, also paints, creates installation pieces and sculpts and while she has been taking photos since she received her first camera at 10 years old, she has only recently decided to start sharing them with an audience.

She has entered the professional category of the competition, which has a prize of $3000. The winners of the other two categories, amateur and student, will receive smaller cash prizes and a digital camera.

Alan Samways, president of the Friends Wollongong City Gallery and one of the four competition judges, says entries into the biennial event get better and better every year. About 70 entries have been received this year.

There are no restrictions on who the portrait can be of - Samways says they have received entries of anything from people's pets to their grandmothers - but it must have been taken in the past year.

While he can't pinpoint what will draw him to a particular portrait, he says the winner will need something that sets it apart.

"We're looking for something very different, especially in the professional class, something totally different and unusual, but I guess until we really see what's there, we don't know."

The winners of each category will be announced at the exhibition's opening tonight.

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