Forbes farmer facing dust storm wins National Photographic Portrait Prize

DROUGHT STORY: Joel B Pratley's photograph of Forbes farmer David Kalisch in a dust storm has won the National Photographic Portrait Prize. Photo: Joel B Pratley
DROUGHT STORY: Joel B Pratley's photograph of Forbes farmer David Kalisch in a dust storm has won the National Photographic Portrait Prize. Photo: Joel B Pratley

This incredible image captures a scene all too familiar to many of us.

Local farmer, David Kalisch, walks alone into a dust storm on his Forbes property in a season of heart-breaking drought.

It's titled Drought Story, by Sydney photographer Joel B Pratley, and it was on Friday awarded the National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Joel actually came to Forbes with a team to capture images and footage that would be used to raise funds for Rural Aid.

He was working with director Kyra Bartley and cinematographer Campbell Brown to capture the day-to-day activities of farm life - against the backdrop of the devastation of drought - when this dust storm rolled in.

The photographer concedes the team's instincts were to seek shelter and protect their equipment.

"It looked like it was going to miss the farm, but we got completely enveloped in it," he said.

"We took cover ... then we realised we should be capturing it."

David didn't seem too fazed either way, he recalls, by January 2020 our local farmers had worked through those conditions plenty of times. Joel described his composure as "surreal".

But what the photographer captured in that moment was incredibly powerful and it is now being shared across the nation.

Beyond the farmer facing drought, Joel feels it represents humanity facing an unknown future. It speaks of strength and resilience in the face of bushfire, drought, COVID-isolation.

Because by the set of his shoulders, this man is not defeated.

Eighteen months on from that day, the landscape here has changed so dramatically and so has Joel's situation: he's currently in lockdown in Sydney.

So what sticks with him from his visit to Forbes?

"How tough people can be, and how hopeful people can be," he said.

"Emma and David didn't want to leave the farm, they didn't even want to move into town.

"It's a different world."

Joel is working on plans to sell the image with profits to go to Rural Aid, The Advocate will be happy to share those details when they're finalised.

David's wife Emma admits that being in front of the camera was well out of their comfort zone, but the couple had so appreciated the work of Rural Aid during the Mega Farm Rescue that they were very willing to help out.

She can't imagine any life other than that they enjoy on the land, even after locking up the house against the relentless dust storms of that summer and feeding stock daily for those endless months.

"What motivates me is looking after the stock," she said. "(Giving up) is not an option. You have got to go out."

It's hard to believe now that their farm, west of Forbes, is nearly too wet. Realistically, drought recovery continues as they look to rebuild their livestock numbers.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize was announced at the National Portrait Gallery and live-streamed so finalists unable to travel to Canberra due to COVID-related travel restrictions could watch the announcement from home.

This year judges selected79 works, more than double the usual amount, as a way of acknowledging the impact the pandemic has had on the creative community.

"We have increased the exhibition space in order to extend this opportunity to more artists, and we have also extended the duration of the exhibition until November, so more people can see it. As usual, all finalists' works are included on our website for those who are unable to travel," NPG Director Karen Quinlan said.

Further prizes will be announced including the $5000 People's Choice Award, supported by the David Roche Foundation. Audiences can vote online at portrait.gov.au

Exhibition open until November 7.