Yesterday was the day for awards. First the news of my win in Blog of The Year on The Indie Chicks site. Hooray!  Then my very talented friend Marina who I have written about previously in the post “This is Us, This is Me” received some awesome news.

Marina received four awards in the NSW/ACT AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) Awards, in both landscape and portrait categories. Marina was also a finalist in the “Emerging” photographer category at the awards.  Such incredible achievements for someone who took up photography as a way of expressing herself after her experience with moving through the other side of brutal breast cancer treatment. But took it up she did with passion and complete gusto! 

One of the portraits Marina submitted was from our photographic session last year. I flew to Canberra and she hilariously set up a studio in her children’s play room, borrowed some lighting and bang bang! Here we are.

The print was titled “Moe” in reference to the combination of unique hairstyles of The Three Stooges. It represents my disappointment at my hairs failure to return and frustration at looking this way despite being 15 months post chemo. Incidentally, the image makes my hair look much thicker and darker than it actually is, even now, 22 months after chemo, I am without eyebrows and thick enough hair create any hairstyle.

The judges are presented with each image and given a few moments to score it.  There is no title, no story and no details about the photographer.  Just the image itself.  They review over a thousand images and assess them on content, impact, and professional quality.  The judging was live streamed here. 

Incredibly, this is how Marina’s image spoke to them. Click to listen.  The transcript is below.


Transcript – Judging of Marina’s Image 

David:  Thank you judges. Print scores Silver Award, 82, congratulations!

David:  Now Hilary is on 87 and has elected to challenge.  Hilary, you are working with, ah, 78, 84, 82 and 80. Please Hilary, share your thoughts. 

Hilary :  Um Initially I sort of struggled with the skin tone of her face, um, but it’s such a striking portrait and her intense gaze it really sort of got me in. I read this as she has had chemotherapy and she has lost her hair and her hair is grown back. And I read the fact that possibly radiotherapy and often with people, I’m interpreting this myself, with radiation therapy you can get radiation burns, so maybe she has had radiation on her head, who knows, but I just think that there is a story in those eyes, a story in her face, the hair, the fact that it is presented with such a direct gaze, and a very simple background, black top, you know, it’s an extremely simple direct portrait. Strong, but sad.

David:   Hmm, Jacqui Dean I’d like to hear from you please there at 78 please.

Jacqui:  I’d put it into professional practice, um you know, we are looking at all the prints and I see that story immediately, but um, there’s just something, ah, it’s slightly lopsided, and her necklace isn’t square on and it’s such a square on sort of picture facing us like this. I feel that everything should be straight, and she’s just going slightly down and I don’t like where it is cropped either. I would like to have seen more of her rather than cropping it there. But you know, I’m listening.

David:  Um okay, Paul

Paul:  Yeah actually Jacqui they’re all the points that pulled this up high for me. I felt like there is this askew intensity about this. It’s a very well crafted image so to me that spells a deliberateness to where it’s cropped, there is an extra tension in that cut at the bottom where I wouldn’t actually put it. There is an askewness to, to the shoulders and, and the leaning over of this necklace, there’s something is just slightly off.  One of the eyes is slightly wider than the other which with that level of intensity I find quite, um,  quite full-on actually to experience. And you know with elements of story you can read in I’m actually coming up with Hilary into distinction.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful print.

David:  Thank you Paul.  Can we go back to Hilary please. Hilary your right of reply.

Hilary:  Um yeah, no I agree with what Paul has said, I think that the fact that she has gone through obviously some sort of trauma, um you know, things aren’t symmetrical, but they are not even, whatever, so hence I think that makes it a stronger portrait.

David:  So Hilary, you are asking your judges to go to… silver distinction. Yeah, there we are. Okay so, Hillary’s score of 87 is locked in. Would the other four judges please re-score.

David:  And you get your wish, 85, silver with distinction.


I think the judges are absolutely spot on with their interpretation, despite having no background context accompanying the image.

Nothing about breast cancer or any cancer is symmetrical. Nothing about it sits right.  It’s awry.  It’s to be scorned, held in contempt.  It’s intense.  It’s painful. It’s unfair.  It’s ugly.  Breast cancer is not pink and pretty which seems to be the tack of most fundraising organisations.

Cancer cropped me in places that I didn’t want to be.  My hair and eyebrows were permanently destroyed by chemo.  There is an unspoken tension in my body language, my position. A crookedness. I cringe.

This tension carries on even in people who are “cured”.   Behind the smiling faces of “survivors”, is this “askewness” that one of the judges refers to.  This new, wonky, awry, self. This “out of line’ new normal that those diagnosed and treated for cancer have to endure. And this can take some time to right itself, even in the best of us.

Congratulations Marina on having the standard of your images and talent recognised. I can’t wait to see what you capture going forward! Thank you for asking me to be one of your subjects. x

“Moe” by Marina McDonald,