Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012, National Portrait Gallery | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012, National Portrait Gallery
Outstanding images from eminent photographic masters and students alike
The Taylor Wessing Photographic… well, you get the drift. It's quite a long title for what is now one of the most fascinating and wide-ranging exhibitions of photographs mounted in London, and which goes out on tour nationally next year. It is described as a snapshot of contemporary portrait photography, and this is one of the strongest iterations yet, 60 photographs selected from an international submission of over 5,000 images from more than 2,000 photographers, all taken within the last year or so.
Each has been chosen blind, as the photographer was not identified during the selection. In practice this means that the eminently accomplished and senior masters of the genre - two dozen photographs by the sexagenerian Eamonn McCabe are already in the NPG collection and here he is with an emotive portrait of the artist Sarah Lucas, simultaneously wiry, resilient and extraordinarily pale and rather scruffy, perched on the rim of a modest swimming pool in Suffolk – are on view, along with photographers who are still students or just emerging.
Alma Haser is a German who graduated from Nottingham Trent two years ago, and her compelling offering is two eerily similar adolescent boys, friends, deadpan in identical haircuts, one clutching the other, called The Ventriloquist (pictured right), a title which makes the viewer wonder about the ties that bind. The image won fourth prize. First prize was awarded to the portrait by 28-year-old Barcelona-born London resident Jordi Ruiz Cirera of a young Bolivian woman, Margarita Teichroeb, clearly itchily uncomfortable in front of the camera. She is a Mennonite, descendant of a religiously exclusive German sect who rather improbably settled in Bolivia centuries ago, and still live in isolated subsistence farming communities, similar to the Amish of Pennsylvania. Simplicity and awkwardness combine to telling effect.
Some of the subjects are also eminently recognisable, although who realised that Mark Rylance has such startling greenish-blue eyes, as seen in his strikingly introverted portrait (pictured below) by Spencer Murphy (third prize). David Bailey looks like a cleaned-up tramp who happens to have lucked into a handsome interior in a photograph by Rick Morris Pushinsky, whom Bailey commended for quickness while demanding to know all the technical details. There is a huge portrait of Hilary Mantel, in a subtly charming hat, caught by Michael Birt standing on a Cornish beach in a moment between rainstorms. There is an extraordinary dignity and serenity in Sam Faulkner’s black and white photograph of Jane Goodall.
There is also many a tragic or disturbing portrait. Justin Sutcliffe photographs police constable David Rathband, who was randomly shot and blinded and would kill himself a few months later. He stares eerily out at the camera through his alarmingly convincing artificial eyes.
In Gujarat, Darran Rees photographs (from the inside of a lorry’s cab) a very young and rather beautiful Indian lorry driver, standing against a backdrop of speeding lorries: one of the hardest jobs in the world and hardly attended by vigilant health and safety measures. Likewise the group of Delhi roadworkers, photographed at night by Jeremy Rata, one standing on a barrel almost like a plinth. Somehow, the mood conveyed in both is subtly heroic.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
Panorama of Pop art from Alastair Sooke ahead of the Tate Modern show
The distinguished writer and illustrator talks compensatory learning and the lure of Atlantic liners
The sculptor talks about his fascination with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace and about the big ideas that inform his work
From a biography of Rimbaud to Annie Proulx's collage-like prose, we delve into the celebrated illustrator's literary tastes and habits
A forgotten photographer of the northern slums is rediscovered
The artist who wraps the world in gleaming copper wire – but to what end?
A dynamic art scene in Norway's capital is giving London and Berlin a run for their money
Powerful paintings that explore the Jewish émigré experience
The beguiling tone poems of an American artist
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top exhibitions
Pioneer photographer who had an empathetic understanding of the Indian subcontinent
Just what is it that makes the kitsch-meister American artist so different, so appealing?