Interview with Damien O’Mara Winner of the Aesthetica Art Prize 2013

The Aesthetica Art Prize 2014 launches today with a preview and will be open to the public tomorrow, running from 4 April to 22 June. In anticipation of tonight’s opening, we speak to last year’s winner Damien O’Mara who took home the Main Prize award with his photographic piece Trespasser Series.

A: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist and winner of the Photographic and Digital Category for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2013! What does being shortlisted for an Art Prize mean for you?
DOM: Thanks very much. It was a huge surprise and a really significant event in my career. I think that exhibiting in a foreign country, amongst works from international artists really gave me a different perspective on my own practice. For the first time I became conscious of the way my work would be viewed outside of Australia.

It made me analyse aspects of the work that might be overlooked in Australia but that were seemingly more significant to European audiences. It was also incredibly humbling. All the works exhibited there were incredibly impressive. I was extremely grateful to be shown amongst them.

It was a bizarre experience knowing that my work was being exhibited across the world without being there with it. The exhibition process is normally so charged with emotion and of sending the work off on its own and only seeing the exhibition in photographs was really strange.

A: What did you think of York St Mary’s as the gallery space?
DOM: I think it’s a really exciting place to show contemporary art. The opportunity to exhibit in a medieval abbey is not common for an Australian artist for obvious reasons, and so I was really excited by the possibilities. I think that the specifics of the gallery space really influences spectatorship and redeveloped spaces can offer great opportunities, and the long history of St Mary’s makes it a particularly interesting place for contemporary art to be shown.

A: What have you done since the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition?
DOM: I’m currently enrolled in a Master of Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and have continued to make photographic works investigating contemporary masculinity and adherence to role in society. My latest series is inspired by the flooding of Brisbane city in 2011.

There were lots of images of corporate people fleeing the city through flooded streets. The imagery really reduced corporate attire to a purely functional form and portrayed it as completely inadequate within a natural context. I think the abundance of that sort of imagery and the context that a life threatening natural event inevitably provides, highlighted for me the absurdity of conformance to role in contemporary society.

A: You have a background in film production. Has this inspired your photography, and how?
DOM: It undeniably has. I spent most of my childhood obsessed with films but was really frustrated by the film making process. I found so much more freedom of expression in photography and never really looked back once I made the switch. I‘m still very interested in the cinematic aesthetic. I love the way people like Gregory Crewdson critique both the process and the look.

A: Your winning piece from the Trespasser Series explores places that are “off-­‐limits” to people in corporate roles. How did you come about this idea?
DOM: The work reflected my life as a young person in a corporate position and the experience I had in trying to redefine my work role. I was a structural design engineer for many years and opportunities in film and photography prompted me to abandon that role and to move into the arts. The change was an extremely significant event in my life and made me reflect on why I hadn’t attempted to redefine my role earlier. It made me realise that I had accepted gender and work roles unquestioningly, and that it was only by chance that I gained the perspective to redefine my life.

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, 3 April – 22 June, York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN.For more information visit

1. Damien O’Mara, Airport and Excavator from the Trespasser Series.