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50 Years of Tears: NRL photo wins top Walkley prize

50 Years of Tears, the 2017 Walkley photograph of the year.
50 Years of Tears, the 2017 Walkley photograph of the year. Photograph: Grant Trouville

50 Years of Tears – an image which depicts the tearful embrace of Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen and club legend Andrew Ettingshausen after the Sharks won their maiden NRL premiership in 2016 – has become the first sports picture to win the Nikon Walkley award for photograph of the year.

The Walkley judging panel felt Grant Trouville’s was the outstanding picture of the past 12 months, one which neatly captures the outpouring of emotion as the Sharks ended their 50-year title drought. It is a visceral, compelling picture which, they said, transcended the usual boundaries of sport.

“I’ve never entered a photo award in my life,” Trouville, who works for the NRL, revealed afterwards, “but the guys in my team lately go ‘you’ve gotta start putting photos in’ and that’s the one I chose.

“I wasn’t sure how it would be received after I heard I’d won. I was like ‘I hope they don’t hate me’ [because it’s sport] but I’ve got some good feedback. To have an NRL photo to be recognised, yeah I’m blown away.”

The photo of the year award is typically won by a hard-hitting news image – past winners have included The Man on The Operating Table by Andrew Quilty and Ice Nation by Gary Ramage – but this year Trouville’s image beat a number of strong news contenders.

Indeed, Trouville’s image owed as much to his own news judgment as to his compositional skill. Recalling the final moments of the grand final at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, with Cronulla leading 14-12, he explained: “Before the buzzer went there was already a huge amount of emotion in the stadium. I was down at the northern try-line because we had to be there in case Melbourne scored a try, but in my head I knew how big a moment it would be for Paul Gallen if Sharks won, so I singled out where he was on the field and as soon as the buzzer went I just bolted straight towards him.

“There’s only five photographers allowed on the field after the game and it becomes really scattered. It’s very hard to pick your moment but I figured I’d stay with Paul.

“First he collapsed on the ground, then he went to a few players and as he was walking towards the middle Andrew Ettinghausen – probably the best ever player to play for the Sharks, and obviously someone who never won the trophy – came on and they just met at the perfect time. They just had this hug. They didn’t even say anything. They just fell into that cuddle and it was just a really powerful moment. A few seconds later they disappeared.

“The emotion you get from sport, you just can’t get it anywhere else.”

Yet not all celebratory pictures are quite as striking as this. Trouville acknowledges that the composition of his image, as well as his decision to turn it black and white in post-production, were critical in paring back the peripheral details and heightening the impact of the moment.

“I’m pretty tall so it’s hard to not get a cluttered background so I like to crouch down and bring the frame up,” he explains. “And when I did the black and white option it helped me focus straight into their faces so I thought that’d be the same for everyone else – there’s no distractions. And obviously a lot of the biggest moments in history have been on black and white film so it seemed appropriate for the Sharks’ moment.”

Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat
Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat, 25, who has been on Manus Island for three and a half years. Photograph: Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax

Other Walkley winners on Thursday night included Fairfax photographer Alex Ellinghausen, who took home two prizes: portrait of the year for his pensive shot of Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat, and the award for contemporary Australian daily life for his series on Larissa Walters breast-feeding her 14-week old daughter in the Senate.

Marina Neil won the community/regional prize for her folio which included a shot of two young sisters struggling as they try to devour a rapidly melting paddle pop.

The remaining photographic winners will be announced on 29 November.

  • Jonny Weeks was a member of the Nikon Walkley judging panel
This article titled "50 Years of Tears: NRL photo wins top Walkley prize" was written by Jonny Weeks, for theguardian.com on Friday 13 October 2017 04.08am

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