There is a something special about a family portrait.
Everyone is brushed and polished for the day. The photographer arrives. Kids squirm. The baby cries. Furniture is rearranged. Tripods unfold. Lights go up. Everyone is marshaled into pose. The occasion is over soon but the results create lifetime memories.
Most refugee families cannot afford those special memories.
Earlier this year Sydney-based photographer Rusty Crawshaw (son of members) volunteered to CRS to take portraits of refugee families when he was in Canberra.
2021 has been the strangest of years but between COVID scares Rusty took portraits of three CRS families.
The Deng family was thrilled with their portrait. It now features prominently in their living room. Life has been a struggle since they arrived in Australia in 2017 and the portrait means much to them. It is a sign of where they are and what they have achieved in just a few years.
Rusty entered the portrait of the Dengs in the 2021 Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture.
Olive Cotton was one of Australia’s pioneering modernist photographers. Her family bequeathed funds to the Tweed Regional Gallery in northern New South Wales for a biennial award to honour her legacy.
Rusty’s portrait was selected as a finalist and highly commended by the acclaimed art photographer who judged the competition. Michael Cook is a Bidjara man and wrote:
This family portrait makes me feel emotional because it speaks so powerfully to current Australian politics. These people are demonstrably close, with a child sitting on his brother’s knee and another boy holding his brother’s leg. They express a sense of pride and belonging within their family unit. I like its colours and quirky setting – it stands out for me because of the strength behind its sentiment and size.
When I look at it this portrait (in an almost 1970s setting) I see hope and strong family values that are very positive. The pose and expression of the children remind me of a time when our society was more community- focused and less materialistic. This family appear appreciative of the opportunity given to them; I’d love to see Australians offer that humanity to more people in need.
Rusty’s portrait – along with 70 other finalists – is on exhibition at the Tweed Gallery until September.
View the exhibition catalogue at artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/prizesandawards/olivecotton