Pregnant portrait a winner

FORMER Kerang Technical High School student Alana Holmberg has won one of Australia's most prestigious art awards, the National Photographic Portrait Prize, for a picture of her sister, Greta, nine months pregnant.

Photographer Alana Holmberg, left, Sister Greta and baby Sol at the Canberra gallery with the portrait prize image in the background. Picture: Supplied.

Photographer Alana Holmberg, left, Sister Greta and baby Sol at the Canberra gallery with the portrait prize image in the background. Picture: Supplied.

"It was amazing. It's very special to get that kind of recognition for your work," said Alana, who only took up photography seriously a decade ago.

"Going down that path is hard and you question yourself ... It's pretty lovely to get that encouragement when it comes."

Alana, who moved to Murrabit, aged four, when her father took the job of principal at Myall Primary School, then shifted to Kerang with her family a few years later when the school closed and Rod Holmberg took over at Kerang Primary School.

Her mother, Jenny, a rural art teacher who travelled between locations, also went to work at the school.

Growing up in the country gave Alana a laid back and pretence-free outlook, and probably influenced her openness and interest in other people, the 36-year-old says. 

It also instilled a curiosity about the wider world.

"There's an element of wanting to see what's outside your home town. I always had a fascination with other places," she says.

As a girl Alana collected stamps and pondered their exotic origins.

When she was 16 the family spent a year in Canada, where she learnt photography, but after returning to Australia the interest lay largely dormant while she finished school and went on to work in marketing in Melbourne.

Losing her job, though, at age 26 set the young woman on a new career path. 

"I was made redundant and that was the push I needed to go back to school," Alana says.

In 2011 she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts in photography at RMIT, and on completing the course in 2014 was named "most promising graduate".

She then embarked on a career as a freelance photographer and videographer, working mainly on projects for non-government organisations in the Asia Pacific region producing work on themes like climate change, health and nutrition, and women's issues.

"Most of my work was out in the Pacific Islands telling stories about those places," she says. 

"The organisation would send me over for a couple of weeks to build stories around particular topics." 

Meanwhile, in her down time, she took photos and made video on subjects of personal interest, often with a social justice angle.

In 2017 a picture of a female Turkish activist she took was listed as a finalist for the national portrait prize.

But the photo of Greta was different.

"I started photographing her pregnancy because it was a change, and I thought it would be nice to capture our family before the arrival of [baby] Sol," Alana says.

It wasn't only Greta but the whole close-knit Holmberg family that was entering "a new chapter" as the next generation approached, and the winning photo "reflected those changes for all of us," Alana says. 

"It's a tribute to Greta, who is proud of what her body did." 

"It did also feel like a bit of a gift to my family, a wonderful celebration of our family and the love we have for each other."

Alana Holberg's winning portrait of her pregnant sister, Greta.

Alana Holberg's winning portrait of her pregnant sister, Greta.

See the full report in the Gannawarra Times, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 or subscribe to the digital edition.

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