It was a stifling and overcast Australia Day when Rhonda Muxlow, 57, pulled out her camera and captured a ritual thousands of years old.
"It was Australia Day 2017 at Circular Quay, you had hundreds of people and a group were crowding around this specific area near the underside of the Harbour Bridge. I went and had a look and saw this beautiful smoking ceremony by this small group of Australian Indigenous men," said Ms Muxlow.
"Every time I wanted to get an image focusing on the men, their faces would be covered by smoke. So the idea occurred to me to focus on the source of the smoke, to make it work for me rather than against me."
Focusing on the smoke created a "painterly quality to the human subject of her image" said Peter Rae, photojournalist at Fairfax Media who judged the competition.
"The winning image by Clique member, Rhonda Muxlow, filled the brief. For anyone who has seen a smoking ceremony, they would understand how special it is. "Muxlow captured the subtle texture and colour of the smoke as it moves around the performers," Mr Rae said. "Her use of a shallow depth of field is fantastic, as the smoke is like a haze blanketing the soft image of the didgeridoo player. Its all most like a water colour painting, just lovely."
Ms Muxlow, who lives in Newcastle, goes to Sydney each Australia Day. "It's a bit of a personal ritual that I and a friend have," she said. "It was nice to have a personal ritual lead to an image that would fit in the Clique Rites and Rituals competition."
Speaking of the overall quality of the entries, Mr Rae said: "Rites and Rituals is the first challenge, I have judged in a while. The overall standard, and subject matter, was fantastic. I did not know there were so many daily rituals and rites out there."
Some of the entries, though good photographs, were overly enhanced.
"The one disappointment was that many photos were ruined by, 'cooking the image', meaning that images were over sharpened, or had too much saturation, or in some images both of the above. Too much cooking of the image can ruin a good photo and this was definitely the case in this month's competition," Mr Rae said.
Ms Muxlow said she would continue to submit entries to Clique. "It's such a great form of getting feedback from fellow enthusiasts who are passionate about photography."
She wins a Clique prize pack, including a portfolio review by a Fairfax photographer, a 12-month subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan, a custom collage from PosterCandy, wine from Tulloch Wines a framed 16x20-inch print of her winning image.
To vote on the Clique People's Choice Award for the April Challenge, visit cliquephotos.com.au. Voting closes on Tuesday, May 2 at 10am AEST. The winner will be announced on the Clique Photos Facebook page.
Clique Photo Club is run by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age photography departments. It aims to inspire and teach better photography through monthly competitions, as well as workshops and events. To join, go to cliquephotos.com.au.