The prestigious photographic portrait award returns with a showcase of the most talented photographers presenting an ambitious approach to portraiture today
Offering a kaleidoscopic peek at global photo-portrait talent, this yearly prize is judged anonymously, so it’s a mixed bag of established and rising artists. Subjects range from celebrities – Benedict Cumberbatch photographed for Out magazine, Peter Capaldi for the Sunday Times – to regular folk, such as Birgit Püve’s captivating portrait of Estonian woman Fagira D Morti, and the £12,000-winning portrait by David Stewart, who captured his twentysomething daughter and her jumper-clad friends in ‘Five Girls’.
Other standouts: Sophie Harris-Taylor’s ‘Tom’, a soft-toned but compelling picture of a young male ballet dancer; a comedy moment from Pamela Landau Connolly, whose ‘Fanda Smoking’ shows a woman outside a hair salon in a robe, mid-dye job, accidentally looking like the Virgin Mary; and Jouk Oosterhof’s extraordinary ‘André on His Couch’, its subject awash with beige women’s clothing and set against a matching interior. Sarah Lee’s ‘Luke, Gaskell’s of Wigan’ is a lovely nostalgic shot of a tie-wearing lad waiting in a fish and chip shop, seen through a rain-soaked window.
There are plenty of topical moments along the lines of Kai Wiedenhöfer’s heartbreaking photos of smiling Syrian children with artificial limbs, Justin Sutcliffe’s dignified and slightly sullen shot of Afghanistan’s first woman police chief, and an outtake of the Obamas looking sassy.
Photo portraiture is extremely difficult to get right. Simply put, portraits of people demand an emotional commitment from the viewer. You feel as though you must be able to decode the deeper meaning of the surface image, and if the connection isn’t there, it’s easy to interpret what you’re seeing as hammy, sentimental, devoid of substance or even exploitative. That’s why this exhibition is crucial. It influences how we see the world and the people around us; it also generates discussion. And with a ticket price of just £4, you can afford to take along some mates.
To me, a portrait should have an inner message. The background should reflect the character or the life of the person photographed. Some of those exhibited did, but so many didn't.
Any good photographer can take a studio portrait with a blank background. Yet those exhibited and made it, just stood there with blank faces, showing no character at all.
Yet they made the Taylor Wessing 2015 show! I left feeling "I could do that!" I really would like to know what the judges criteria are.
Some of the winners seemed very unworthy of being there. I wanted to leave inspired but only a very few I admired.