Currently the National Portrait Gallery are exhibition the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016. Within the exhibition there were established and unastablished photographer’s work, some which had never been published or exhibited anywhere. There were also work which was created by students.
There are prizes for first, second and third contestants, the photographer who was given first prize was Claudio Rasano.
The judges picked this piece for its simplicity and ability to show the beauty in the everyday. The photograph is part of a series, so showing it on its own doesn’t perhaps give its full impact on the viewer. The concept for the work is very interesting “The portrait, which is part of the series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare was taken in Johannesburg, South Africa and focuses on issues of preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms. The photograph was shot in daylight, outdoors and in front of a plain white paper background. The sitter for this particular pigment print is of student Thembinkosi Fanwell Ngwenya.” (Source: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/twppp-2016/exhibition/prize-winners/). At first glance I was surprised that such a simplistic image won first prize, but I was also glad that it shows you do not need a fancy set up to create great work.
Second prize was given to Joni Sternbach.
As most of the work was printed digitally (inkjet or c-type) it was amazing to see tintype being used in a contemporary way. This series by Sternbach was based around men’s relationship with water, but also photographs environmental landscapes, and Western landscapes.
I’ve never seen a tintype in real life, so it was very interesting to be able to see this work. Sternbach was given second prize for her technical skill of using the archaic photographic process.
Third prize went to Kovi Konowiecki.
Kovi Konowiecki is currently into his final major project for his MA in photography at the University of the Arts in London. “When I set out to photograph the faces of Orthodox Jews around the world, it was an attempt to both strengthen my ties to my family’s history and shed light on the traditions of a people that seem strange to modern society. The project started by contacting members of the Jewish community from where I grew up, and evolved into travels across the world to capture Orthodox Jews who, despite living, thousands of miles apart, are bound together by history, tradition and a set of values that serve as the cornerstone of the lives of many who live in today’s society.” (source: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/twppp-2016/exhibition/prize-winners/). This is the first time a series of work has been given a prize, but the judges were struck by the portraits of a community which is usually not accessible.
Lastly I want to talk about the in focus showcase of Cristina de Middel’s work Gentleman’s Club.
Middel’s series Gentlemen’s Club is about prostitution, usually on this subject it’s the women who are photographed and put on display. Middel wanted to switch it so that the men who were buying their services were in the spotlight instead.
You cannot see in the image shown (you’re not allowed to take photographs in the exhibition) but within the exhibition under each photograph was a short sentence about the men in the images. She put their age (n/a if they didn’t want it shown), what age they began using prostitutes and why. I thought this was a really empowering way to display this work, and fascinating way to photograph the subject. Usually men using these services do not want to be photographed, but Middel recruited sitters through a newspaper advertisement and photographed them in brothels. This gave Middel power over them, switching the roles they would usually be in when visiting a brothel.
Overall the work shown in this years Taylor Wessing exhibition was very diverse, showing many different ways portraiture can be used to display a message.