Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

I visited the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (TW) at London’s National Portrait Gallery[i] recently, and it was so interesting to see the different entries shortlisted and the winners in this year’s competition.

It was fascinating to me that not all photographs were in focus, or completely pin sharp (for example this entry below, by Nancy Newberry, in which the back wall is sharper than the two people) – despite being recently told that images should always be in focus…..this is a matter of personal preference perhaps?

The Sentinels , February 2016, from the series  Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings  by  Nancy Newberry.  Available at:   https://nancynewberry.com/photographs/Smoke-Bombs-and-Border-Crossings/2

The Sentinels, February 2016, from the series Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings by Nancy Newberry. Available at:

https://nancynewberry.com/photographs/Smoke-Bombs-and-Border-Crossings/2

Photography is subjective anyway, and some of the photographs in the TW shortlist that I really loved weren’t placed, and some of the shortlist images didn’t really “grab me” at all. It makes me wonder whether these “rules” for photography are less important than we are led to believe, and what makes a great picture, or a great narrative, is what the photograph says to the viewer, what it communicates, and how (or what) it makes you feel – not how it was taken. At least, coming away from the TW exhibition today, this was my impression.

The photographs that resonated the most with me, were the ones that I felt really captured something about the subject, and that really made me want to keep looking at the image. Either there was something interesting about the composition of the subject in the image, or the expression on the sitter’s face, a look of something in their eyes, or their body language perhaps. I would like to try to bring more of these qualities into my images although exactly how seems as much to do with luck and timing as it does skill and knowledge.

I really enjoyed seeing the different interpretation’s of “portrait” as well – some quite traditional in style, some more environmental, some (like this year’s winning image) were closer crops of the subject’s face, some didn’t have a face in them at all - for example this entry below, by Georgie Wileman.

2014-2017, May 2017  from the series  Endometriosis  by  Georgie Wileman    https://www.georgiewileman.com/endo/

2014-2017, May 2017 from the series Endometriosis by Georgie Wileman

https://www.georgiewileman.com/endo/

It makes me consider my project and the photographs I have taken, whether or not I looked at them all as portraits, and how (or if) that matters. Some of the TW photographs seemed more staged than others. As I looked back through the accompanying exhibition book I found myself drawn to the images that seemed less staged, posed perhaps, but something about them still seeming natural. I suppose given my personal preference towards taking more natural rather than staged photos for my project this isn’t so surprising. But I suppose reassuring that what I am drawn to liking and what I am drawn to making are in alignment!

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[i] National Portrait Gallery – Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibitionhttps://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/twppp-2017/exhibition/                                      Last Accessed: 09Dec2017