We have had the pleasure of previewing the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery London. The exhibition, whose official opening is on November 8th, presents 60 portraits, which were selected from 5,340 submissions.
The prize was awarded to young photographer Jordi Ruiz Cicera on Monday 5th November, for a photograph of a 26-year-old woman from Bolivia, who for religious reasons was reluctant to sit for the camera. However, all of the portraits truly deserve to be admired, either for their emotional power or the strong message they convey.
We marveled at the great range of themes and different styles explored in this exhibition, from photographs of well-known celebrities to nudes and family portraits. Some of the sitters are confident, others awkward and some even unaware they were being photographed; but from cheerful to gloomy and ordinary to provocative, all of the portraits are feeling-stirring.
As you enter the room, a large photograph of Ai Wei Wei by Matthew Niederhauser is exhibited, entitled The Nine Lives of Ai Wei Wei and taken while he was under virtual house arrest in China. It sets the tone for this captivating selection of photographs.
Next to politically significant portraits such as the Ai Wei Wei one, you also find very interesting family portraits. For instance, Christopher and Harriet by Laura Cohen depicts the photographer’s cousin, whom he describes as having “haunting eyes and a rebellious character”. The photograph is raw, intimate and very poignant.
A few photographs illustrated very moving stories, such as that by Sarah Booker entitled Rosa and Adoney, Chalatenango, El Savador, which focuses on Adoney, whose father was killed in a knife attack when he was only a baby. Becoming Annalie, a portrait of a young girl who has Down’s syndrome by Fiona Yaron-Field, is also very touching, as well as Giles Duley’s Self Portrait, showing the reality of his injuries sustained from an IED in Afghanistan.
Sport celebrities could also be noticed, such as Victoria Pendleton by David Clerihew, whom he tried to portray in a context other than her “elite training regime”, by showing her in a smart dress and professional make-up, and one of Olympic champion Mo Farah by Kate Peters.
A considerable number of portraits attempted to depict today’s societies, with their idiosyncrasies and cultural amalgamations. For instance, Gandee Vasan submitted Davita, Sitali and Paul, which shows a family of three, with Sitali born in Lusaka, her husband Paul born in Montreal, and their daughter born in London. Following the same focus on cultural diversity, Dylan Collard’s 12th Man: Jordan spotlights a star player at Kennington Cricket Club, showing the role of sports in the community and how it can bring together different cultures and nationalities.
What makes this exhibition so special is the great diversity, as you can enter the competition regardless of your skill level, whether you are a professional photographer from a prominent newspaper, or simply an amateur. Nathan Roberts for instance was selected for a picture taken using his iphone, Tourists at The National Gallery Café. As long as you have the eye, there are no boundaries.