Today I visited the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2014 exhibition held at National Portrait Gallery (13 November 2014 – 22 February 2015). I was there to aid my research and form ideas and understand the issues of representation in visual art. This prize is one of the most well known competitions for portraiture and for me it was a way of discovering new contemporary photographers. On display there were nearly sixty portraits from around the world showing our reality today as a culture. From intimate portraits of friends to famous faces. A blend of analogue and digital, traditional and contemporary techniques and photographic processes could be seen. There were over 4,000 submissions across every style and genre that the judges sorted through and the themes that were evident throughout the competition was ‘Admiration, Affliction, Companionship, Identity and Love’.
The winner of the £12,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, currently in its 7th year for 2014, went to David Titlow with the following image.
Titlow’s portrait was named after David Titlow’s baby son called Konrad Lars Hastings Titlow. The picture was taken the morning after a summer party in Sweden. Titlow’s girlfriend had passed their baby to friends who were sitting on the sofa. The photograph captures the baby being shown a small dog and the adults being mesmerised by the chance encounter of the baby and the dog’s meet – none of them have realised Titlow was about to take their picture which has meant that they were all acting very naturally i.e. not staged and posed. The ‘decisive moment’ of this intimate and personal encounter has been forever captured. Titlow said ‘the composition and back light was so perfect I had to capture the moment.’ The natural light from the window has highlighted the baby’s face and the dog perfectly, whereas the others are in the background are more in the shadows which drawers the viewer directly to the baby and dog – the main focus of this image.
An image that I found striking was Arvi from the series Father and Son by Sami Parkkinen. This portrait is of Parkkinen’s son (aged two) wearing his father’s winter coat and it is from an ongoing series about relationships between fathers and sons. Parkkinen says that he worries about the future of humankind, saying ‘What kind of world we are building for our children? What will be our legacy for them? All life come and begin from the nature. Why we are harming the nature?’ His Father and Son project is about the different ways we can see the world around us and what a child sees that an adult maybe can’t. I think he has used the winter coat on the child as an underlying meaning or connotation to adulthood as Parkkinen wants to know how Arvi’s view of the world will change from boyhood to manhood. I think another important aspect of this portrait is that the boy, all be it a bit amused, is very relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera and because of this the viewer is quite happy and feels quite comfortable to view this intimate image.
Another image that caught my eye was Braian and Ryan from the series Double Matters by Birgit Püve. Püve was working on the series for a photography book on twins and triplets living in Estonia. She visited the nine-year-old twin boys at their great grandmother’s house in Saue, an area of idyllic countryside outside Tallinn, where she spent a few hours photographing them in different locations in the surrounding land. She was surprised to find out that in Estonia twins actively want to look the same even though they may have completely different personalities and ideas. This surprised me, as I am a twin (not identical though) and we have always striven to be different from each other. I like that the boys are wearing near identical clothing (except the shoes) but you can tell from this image that one looks stern/angry and the other is taking the whole situation in his stride. A lesson that I have learnt from this portrait is that in just one image you can reveal the characteristics of a person with a bit of thought and foresight.
Photographs at this exhibition have helped me get an understanding of the contexts, practices and processes surrounding portraiture and this will help me form the foundation of my representation project. It has given me an insight as to what makes a portrait stand out to a viewer, the expression/characteristics and personality of the subject and whether you can create empathy with the sitter, the importance of composition, the lighting, the colours and scale of portraiture. All food for thought for my current assignment…
- THE TELEGRAPH, 2014.Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2014 – in pictures [online] [viewed 5 February 2015]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/11077177/Taylor-Wessing-Portrait-Prize-2014-in-pictures.html