In Conversation with Ferne Millen

This year we want to highlight some of the creative work that grabbed our attention for all the right reasons. We loved photographer Ferne Millen’s entry in the Olive Cotton Award, an annual award for photographic portraiture. On 15th of July, Ferne won the 2023 Director’s Choice Award for her portrait of Dr Todd Fernando ‘No Labels Required’ and we spoke to her about this mighty work.

Ferne Millen was immediately captivated by Dr Todd Fernando as a photographic subject and thought ‘ I’ve got to get his number; I’ve got to get in touch with him’. After some effort she did, and her heroic portrait reveals why The Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities made such an impact at first sight. A descendant of the Kalarie peoples of the Wiradjuri nation, Dr Fernando is an accomplished diversity and inclusion consultant with extensive experience working with First Nations and LGBTIQ+ communities. 

Born in Djilang,(Geelong) Ferne Millen’s love of culture and the land was nurtured from a young age. Ferne is interested in photography as a storytelling art and has honed her skills as a social observer over 25 years as a working photographer. As well as an original depiction of her subject, she wanted this portrait to reveal the dichotomy between the constructed and unconstructed world.

Dr Todd Fernando lives in Ormond College under a fellowship on the Melbourne University Campus. During lockdown he would visit the native grasslands in Royal Park which became his dreaming place – and the obvious location for the portrait. In her accompanying description Ferne says, ‘amid the thrall of the urban landscape, this queer Wiradjuri man takes working from home to a new level.’ She was quick to recognise the help she received from her assistant Aviva, friends, and Todd himself when it came to sourcing the desk, the hat stand and ‘all the anthropological bits that aligned with Todd’s identity’.

Ferne was also keen to acknowledge the assistance of ARTEN, the fine art print and framing works in Abbotsford for their production of the one and a half metre print framed in Victorian Ash.

No Labels Required was acquired by the Tweed Regional Gallery. The Gallery Director, Susi Muddiman OAM said, “ This work grabbed my attention. The composition and narrative are strong. This is a portrait of a proud subject, within a portrait of our society on the brink of hopeful change”.

Most importantly Dr Fernando was delighted with the finished portrait

“the world is ready for black and proud’ he said.

Ferne’s current project is a collaboration with Wadawurrung Traditional Owners featuring an immersive soundscape and photography installation touring Victoria.

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