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  • Articles by Sonali

    Exhibition review: Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016

    The 2016 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait prize exhibition has been whittled down to 57 contemporary portrait photographs selected from 4,303 entries submitted anonymously by 1,842 photographers from a total of 61 countries. Established in 1993, the competition is open to both amateur and professional photographers. The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery presents a diverse collection of portraits of people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and age-groups. Their compelling individual stories are explained in an accompanying placard.

    These pictures are mostly large scale, glossy, high definition, ink-jet prints with the sheen of fashion photographs but the content is more substantial. The prize winning entries are displayed at the outset but the rest of the exhibition is well worth exploring. Some of the pictures reflect familiar themes while other photographs bring into focus uncomfortable issues. A number of them are very poignant.

    They feature groups of people, families and friends, or individuals. There are several photographs of elderly people, including a close-up portrait of 116 year old Susannah Mushatt Jones by Karsten Thormaehlen. Thormaehlen is known for taking pictures of centenarians.

    The In Focus display features new pictures by acclaimed Spanish photographer Christina de Middel from the series The Gentlemen’s Club. Julia Gunther continues in the style of documentary photography with her project Proud Women of Africa. Her work highlights the women belonging to an all-female unit guarding South Africa’s Baule Nature Reserve (seen in the background) from poachers.

    In the series Good Things Come Together Jordi Pizarro brings us a collection of family portraits of twins taken in the town of Kodinhi in Kerala, India. Kodinhi has the highest incidence of twin births in the world. The photographs have a vintage feel referencing nineteenth century ethnographic photography.

    Some of the portraits are more painterly in style. Australian photographer Tamara Dean’s atmospheric picture of Nikisha is set in the countryside and influenced by Pre-Raphaelite and Dutch Golden Age painting in terms of lighting and construction.

    There are a few celebrity portraits in the mix including one of Nigel Farage Smoking a Cigar by Charlie Clift. Farage looks self-confident, even exuberant which jars perhaps with the thoughtful mood of this exhibition. The portrait is traditional in style though, providing a point of difference here.  

    The first prize was awarded to Claudio Rasano for his portrait of South African schoolboy, Thembinkosi Fanwell Ngwenya. This school photograph discusses individuality and young people. The judges were impressed by Rasano’s ability to ‘create something beautiful out of the everyday’. Joni Sternbach won second prize for her portrait Thea & Maxwell from her Surfland series, made using a Victorian-era tintype process. What results is an eerily old fashioned finish to a contemporary image of surfers in California. The work of third prize winner (and former professional footballer) Kovi Konowiecki captures evidence of lasting traditions in the modern world. He provides a view of an inaccessible community in his striking portrait series Bei Mir Bitsu Shein.

    Visitors to the exhibition are invited to pick their own winner in the People's Pick on the digital screen found at the end. The result of the public vote will be announced after 12 February. 

    It should be noted that that several images, rated further down the competition, are positioned high up on the back wall which makes for difficult viewing. This is a shame really because each portrait here deserves our attention. The exhibition is exceptional because it highlights people and stories overlooked by the mainstream media (Nigel Farage notwithstanding). The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition ends on 26 February 2017.

    Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery

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