Elyssa Whittaker and Tahnee Marriott were strangers to each other until last week when they met at the Art Gallery of NSW to see the photos they took for the Higher School Certificate hung on the walls of the Sydney art institution.
The pair, both 18, are now linked as they fly the flag for not only Lake Macquarie but the wider Hunter in ArtExpress 2020 - the only students from the area to have been selected for the prestigious showcase of youth art.
From 8552 works submitted by Year 12 visual art students in the 2019 HSC, the photomedia pieces Elyssa, a former student of Toronto High School, and Tahnee, of Warners Bay High School, created for their major projects were deemed 'exemplary' and selected to show as part of the 36th annual ArtExpress exhibition.
"It's crazy. I never imagined I'd get into ArtExpress," Tahnee, from Warners Bay, said. "I'd been on excursions to see ArtExpress in Year 11 and 12 but I never imagined that mine would be there."
Elyssa, from Blackalls Park, experienced similar feelings when notified her work was one of just 48 selected for ArtExpress.
"I was really shocked," she said. "I didn't think I would get in because there were so many people, something like 8550."
Having both enjoyed photography from a young age, Tahnee and Elyssa chose to pick up the camera to create their HSC major artworks.
While each took inspiration from their surroundings, the subjects they chose to shoot could not have been any different.
Tahnee's work, titled The Nature of Ambiguity, is a panel of six macro photos that creates "abstract worlds by focusing on small details within nature".
"Through macro photography I was able to create simplistic forms and colours which reveals ambiguities and uncertainties surrounding the subject matter," she said. "The texture of the fine art paper blurs the boundaries between photography and painting."
Tahnee took more than 1000 photos for her major artwork but over the year painstakingly narrowed it down to just six.
"I definitely had my favourites but ultimately I went with colour combinations," she said. "It looked really nice hanging up in the Gallery of NSW. It's surreal. I never thought I'd see my work hanging up there.
"There's quite a lot of photography in the [ArtExpress] collection this year but mine is really bright and different. It stands out a lot."
Elyssa chose to showcase Newcastle's industrial heritage through her work titled NEWCASTLE. The work consists of 16 images taken around Newcastle Harbour, Carrington and Kooragang Island. A yellow hue over the images is aimed at giving the viewer a feeling of age and history.
"The city is forever changing. While Newcastle was once known as Steel City, now it's known more for its beaches," Elyssa said. "My body of work is a subjective and structural investigation of Newcastle.
"It's unbelievable that mine was selected. Everyone's is so good. I'm proud to have been selected. I hope people like my pictures and see a different perspective of Newcastle."
ArtExpress 2020 is on show at the Art Gallery of NSW until April 26.
At the end of this exhibition, a number of the artworks will tour to other Sydney and regional galleries.
Elyssa's work will be exhibited in one of the regional ArtExpress exhibitions at the Margaret Whitlam Gallery between July 4 and September 18.
Tahnee's work will be shown as part of a virtual exhibition which launches in July.
The artists will receive their works back at the end of the year.
Tahnee and Elyssa have entered their first year of study at the University of Newcastle. Tahnee is studying to become a primary school teacher while Elyssa is studying to become an architect.
Both said they would continue taking photos as a hobby.