Jessica-Lee Hirst is a freelance writer based in the Yarra Valley.
You wouldn't expect to find a contemporary museum on the oldest street of Lilydale. You also wouldn't expect the small regional museum to be hosting the National Photographic Portrait Prize for 2011. But they are, and they're doing it in style.
The Yarra Ranges Regional Museum was renovated and reopened in May 2011. The architecture is now a blend of historic 1889 Lilydale Shire offices and a modern, bright extension. The museum provides access to the heritage and stories of the Yarra Ranges area, with its collections of over 7000 items including pieces from the life of famous Dame Nelly Melba.
It's a shame that I had never considered this small museum of much interest until today. What brought me here was the Photographic Portrait Prize for 2011 and I was not disappointed. The range and quality of photographs was outstanding, from amateurs to professionals, all presented in a crisp, clean, modern exhibition. Many of the portraits I felt compelled to go back and view again. To look into the eyes of a stranger and feel their emotion is a tribute to the calibre of photographs.
There's a story in every photo; a child birth made me gasp, two old sisters laughing made me smile, and love at the death bed brought a lump to my throat. I have viewed many photographic exhibitions simply because photography intrigues me but I've never felt as touched as I had with this exhibition.
Direct from Canberra, there are 55 portraits selected from 1200 entries. The people in the portraits are what is most important and there's no lack of character or life. Each photo is accompanied with a small explanation of the person or why the photo was taken.
There is a range of other exhibitions on at the museum that are sure to arouse your curiosity. Do not miss the opportunity to see the portraits up close and personal. It's all free and it's full of surprises.
Located next to Melba Park in Lilydale, the museum is less than an hour from Melbourne CBD by car or train.
For a limited time, Museum Harvest Cafe is serving a Weekend Champaign Brunch while the Portrait Prize exhibition is showing. It costs $23 per person for a glass of Yarra Burn bubbly, eggs benedict with smoked ham or smoked buxton trout, wilted spinach and hollandaise sauce, and a tea or coffee. Available every weekend until Sunday 25th March. Bookings are advised; contact Museum Harvest Cafe on 9739 7234.