Vale Polixeni Papapetrou – gone at just 57
It was with much sadness that I learnt of the passing of Polixeni Papapetrou, one of Australia's great photographic artists. While I never had the privilege to meet her in person, we had a long-standing connection and Poli was not only featured in the magazine on numerous occasions, but also lent her great wisdom and expertise as a judge of Australasia's Top Emerging Photographers. Due to her ill-health, she was unable to be involved earlier this year.
At only 57, she left us far too early, but she also left behind am amazing body of work, and will forever be remembered as one of the country's most brilliant artists. The cancer that finally took her was something that she had battled with for years, since 2007, and in 2012 she was told she had only days or weeks to live. Recently, she has celebrated five years all-clear of cancer. Fortunately, the six extra years, from 2012, was a gift of precious time with her family, and the ability to keep producing spectacular work. In 2017, she won the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, one of Australia's most prestigious photographic awards, for her work, Delphi, from her 2016 series, Eden.
Papapetrou’s death was announced yesterday by her husband Robert Nelson, a professor at Monash University and The Age’s visual arts critic. "Polixeni left, nothing to do or be said, but a sorrowful emptiness now that she’s dead,” Nelson wrote on social media. “Please, no flowers to the house,” he added.
Papapetrou’s work is currently on display in exhibitions in China and the US, and she is a headline artist in a show at Melbourne’s RMIT Gallery opening on Friday. Her photographs have also recently featured in exhibitions in Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as being held by a number of Australian institutions.
Naomi Cass, director for Melbourne's Centre for Contemporary Photography (of which Papapetrou was a founding member) said she had known Papapetrou all her adult life. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Cass said: "She was intellectually very robust and clear to the very end … she had both an extraordinary will to live and a capacity to meet suffering and death in the eye, really," she said. "She really held on for her children to see them to young adulthood."