2019 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
22nd December 2019
Last year, entry cost me £1.25 with my grey hair and student art card discounts. This year it was £5, but they let Jan in as my carer, so that's another result.
Last year was a rather glum affair with barely a smile to be seen amongst the exhibits. This year was similar. I have photographed the images I thought worthy of a mention, together with their descriptive cards.
Two of the photographs were outstanding, with another two that raised a smile (though the latter might be influenced by the recent arrival of a first grandson).
It is interesting and, I believe, significant that Raitma's portrait of her mother (fig. B1) was chosen for the front cover of the exhibition catalogue (fig. A1). It is a beautiful and striking image and (here's the significance) will sell far more copies than some other choices which would not have enticed so many buyers, for example, had the one of the first prize images (see fig. D5) been chosen.
Kirkwood's The Hubbocks, (fig. B3) which won third prize, is a delightful and interesting image, in that is shows little of the Hubbocks or even their Cortina, but plenty of their luggage.
Sharp's portrait of a mother and child (fig. B5) eloquently captures the nature of a baby that has learned to crawl and provides a nicely judged composition. It is probably contrived, but no matter.
Lewis' photograph (fig. B5) is a quite serviceable image from what sounds like an interesting project, made poignant by the subject's condition which might have influenced the judges' decision.
There were quite a few persons of age featured as subjects in the show, probably more than half ostensibly female (I might run an analysis on the catalogue).
These are all strong portraits with characterful subjects. My attention was drawn to the text accompanying fig. C3,
the mirror reflection suggests the divide between the sitter's self-perception and how others see her NPG accompanying text
It is difficult to surmise how that conclusion was reached, even given the subject's back story.
For the last batch, I am not greatly impressed with the images as portraits, but I have some observations. This does, of course, beg the question what makes a good portrait?, but that can wait.
Having set aside for now the question what makes a good portrait?, figs. D1 and D3 (not to mention fig. B3) raise the question, what constitutes a portrait? In most cases, I suspect most people would expect a face to be involved (though I will tell the story of my A20 portrait at some point).
B3 is mostly half a Cortina but nevertheless informs the viewer of the nature and character of the subjects.
D1 does not show the ostensible subject's face, though the title of the image refers to the person on the mobile phone case, an image probably not taken by Smithson.
As regards D3, when do portraits become fashion shots if the clothing obscures the wearers' faces?
D7 gets this year's prize for pretentiousness. The description is provided in full,
Friend (b.1974) began taking photographs as a young child in the fields and rivers surrounding her home in Canada. Inspired by a sense of wonder and the unseen, she produced this portrait by altering and re-photographing the original photograph to include the vertical shard of light that cuts through the young boy's figure. Piercing the image, the light alludes to portraiture as 'a portal to another reality, a version of who we were, who we are and who we will become', and is emblematic of the transitional period in the boy's life. Friend's work has been seen in numerous exhibitions including being selected as a finalist in the Lens Culture Art Photography Award, 2018 and Winner of the Fine Art Photography Category of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 2017. NPG accompanying text