Syliva Liber – Nikon-Walkley Press Photography Opening

In February 2015, Sylvia Liber, 2014 Nikon-Walkley Portrait Prize winner opened the Nikon-Walkley Press Photography exhibition at Newcastle Region Library.

Her opening speech contained insights into her creative process and experience shooting her winning portrait. Syliva has been kind enough to share her words from the night with us:

I’d like to start by thanking Newcastle City Council and the Walkley Foundation for inviting me today to talk about my winning portrait, Little Princess. I’ve been a press photographer for over 20 years and during this time, I’ve experienced many challenging moments and lots of different emotions.

As a press photographer we are here to visually document , capturing images to help tell a story,  to act as the eyes of our publication and  to capture timeless moments. You’ve got to be able to convey not only the story, but the emotions that go with it.

I love meeting people and I love being allowed to be a part of their life.

My photo of the Little Princess is about Imogen Stone who was a normal, happy little girl who loved playing, singing and dancing-then on her third birthday she had a seizure.

She was diagnosed with Battens disease which is a fatal neuro-degenerative disease with a life expectancy of between 8 to 12 years.

By the time Imogen was 4 and a half, she was losing her words and getting unsteady on her feet.  Now at 7 years old, she can’t walk , she can’t talk, she’s fed through a tube, and half way through last year she lost her eyesight.

With most portrait  jobs I do and if time permits, I’ll try to get to know my subject by talking to then. This way, I can understand what personality I’m up against and what my limitation may be.  And this way , they get to know me a little better and hopefully feel more comfortable with me.

Upon arrival , I was greeted and  invited into the house with a warm soft smile  by Linda , who is the mother of little Imogen. Standing in the family’s living room, I was given a story behind a few of the photos that decorated her walls and shown photos of what Imogen looked like before this horrible disease took over .

As I got to know Linda,  I was in awe of her strength and courage.  She was such a  proud  mother,  and so grateful that we (the Illawarra Mercury) were covering the story on her family’s adventure to meet the Royals.

Linda walked me to the bedroom where Imogen lay. I saw this adorable, beautiful little girl, dressed like a little princess with  her shiny long hair draped  across the bed.

I  now felt that Linda was comfortable enough with me, and was time to start setting up my photo.

With any job we get, it usually comes with a job description, to give us photographers more insight of whats required. My photo description was to photograph Imogen dressed as a little princess with her siblings for their royal meeting with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Just by looking at Imogen, I could see the potential of a beautiful portrait, but knew that by adding all the siblings , it wouldn’t be as strong.

So I made the decision to first take a pic with Nataya, Imogens older sister before including the other two siblings.

Composition and lighting are very important to me. Imogen’s room was nicely set up with some beautiful natural window light, but still not enough to get the result I wanted. I still needed a little fill light to  highlight faces. Already dressed like little princesses , I set up Nataya so that she was naturaly close to Imogen and facing the camera.  I then asked  her  to hold her hand.  Meanwhile, Imogen’s mum Linda and her grandmother stood closely watching on.

I believe that the key to a good photo is the way you talk to your subject.

It was then I asked Nataya in a soft quiet voice to gently lean over and kiss her sister and to show me how much she loves her. As Nataya leaned over, little Imogen could feel her sister.

After shooting continuously for a few seconds, I had to stop.

Imogen’s mother and grandmother were  crying!

All she could say was “Oh My God, that is so beautiful, I’ve never seem them captured so beautifully together”.

Well , that was it for me, I shed a little tear with Linda. It’s moments like this that really make my job worthwhile. I experienced raw emotion and managed to capture the innocence on camera.

Photographing Imogen was one of the most emotional moments of my career, it gave me a chance to do what I love – I love capturing the emotion, the moment, the feelings. If I can put all of those things into a photo then I know I’ve done my job Months later , I made the decision to enter the photo in the Nikon-Walkey Portrait category. I’ve wanted to enter the Walkleys many other times , but have always managed to talk myself out of it, but this time with the enthusiasm and push from my husband, I went ahead and entered.

To my surprise, and the “I TOLD YOU SO” from my husband, I found out that I won the Nikon-Walkely Portrai.t

Winning the Nikon-Walkely Portrait Prize is my highest  photographic achievement to date  and since winning , I’ve been totally overwhelmed with joy .

I’m a very passionate photographer and still enjoy being on the road, but our industry is slowing fading away as we are not needed as much. With technology advancing with the development and availability of more powerful cameras and equipment  becoming better and more affordable, it has allowed and opened the door for the amateur photographer , allowing each one the ability to become a pro.

And because of this, our days as press photographers are numbered.


Thank you everyone for coming along tonight!



IMAGES FROM THE EVENT – photography by the Newcastle Herald