Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
Until Sun Feb 20 2011
© David Chancellor
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Time Out says
Mon Jan 10 2011
It’s not paranoia: everybody really is staring at me. That’s because, of the 60 finalists selected for this photographic portrait award, barely a handful are not eyeing up the camera. These multifarious gazes are challenging (Tom Martin’s child prisoners in Burundi) or sheepish (Jon Snow and Ann Widdecombe) or more often, inscrutable; in any case, reducing a stranger’s expression to a single adjective is grossly unfair, even if that sometimes seems to be portrait photography’s aim. Which do we want, then: a visual essay, or an exercise in wordlessness? Can the best manage to be both?
The questions continue. Is having children scarier than going to war? Dona Schwartz’s pregnant soldier couple seems to suggest it is. Are our eyes easily misled? Oh yes. Lena and Katya, juvenile prisoners photographed by Michal Chalbin, look like angels, but Lena helped organise a rape. We are not told what Katya did.
The second prizewinner, by Panayiotis Lamprou, is problematic in a different way. I find Lamprou’s wife in a summer dress, legs parted, no underwear, hard to look at as I never will the Haitian lady who suffered through the floods, or the man with Parkinson’s, or the twin teenage prostitutes, backs curved in an eloquent arc of defeat, who won Jeffrey Stockbridge third prize, although Tony Blair, in grey light, staring off as if at the ghost of misdeeds past, also made me wince.
The winner, David Chancellor’s elegantly lit picture of a 14-year-old hunter, is compositionally perfect, and forgettable. It’s Amy Helene Johansson’s ‘Unsafe Journey’ that won’t leave me: a Bangladeshi woman crouched on the couplings of a fast-moving train, hitching a free ride. There’s a printed explanation, but it’s not necessary. Just meet her gaze.