Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Had seen some pictures from this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in the BJP. I had been particularly struck by the first prize – David Chancellor’s ‘Huntress with Buck’ and several other shots that I found online – including ‘Tic-Tac and Tootsie’ (Jeffrey Stockbridge) and ‘Wafa’ so I jumped at the chance to see the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery while I was in London at the weekend.
I found the choice of ‘Wafa’ (Felix Carpio)as the eye-catcher for the exhibition somewhat odd. For me it is undoubtedly one of the stand-out shots of the show. Yet, it is rather at odds with most of the material on display, being a conventional, if very beautiful, portrait where many of its companions had a more contemporary feel. Perhaps that it why it was used – the cynic in me feels that some of the other shots would be unlikely to attract visitors in the way that this particular image probably can.
I was surprised by how little space was given over to the exhibition, which made for a somewhat cramped viewing experience – if you stood back from an image to see it at a reasonable viewing distance, often as not some helpful soul would assume you were making space for them and stand in front of you. Set against that – where else could you see a collection of this quality for just £2 – which was effectively refunded if you bought the catalogue (by way of a price reduction).
‘Huntress with Buck’ looked as good on the wall as I had hoped, but ‘My British Wife’ – second (Panayiotis Lamprou)– looked like its inclusion was intended to shock but failed.
The catalogue talks of the confrontational pose of the two sisters in ‘Tic-tac and Tootsie’, but all I could see was resignation and defeat.
I don’t intend to comment on all the shots, particularly as I can’t link to them individually– and to be honest some left me wondering why they were included, but other shots of note included ‘Yasna’ (Hadas Mualem) – a picture which seemed to capture isolation and loneliness –and by way of contrast the utterly charming ‘Tagar, 30, with his three daughters: Asa, Diti, Prya.’ by Kurt Hoerbst.
In the catalogue ‘Wafa’ is paired with a similarly conventional portrait of a young girl ‘Allegra’ by Russ McClintock. If ever there was a case of ‘the eyes have it’ it must be this pairing.
Steve Bloom’s study of Parkinson’s Disease – ‘Tim Andrew’s in his Bedroom’ was particularly moving - with the movement blur of the shot (I assume a slow exposure) a speaking clearly to some of the symptoms of the disease.
One final recommendation and then I’ll stop. For originality, Unsafe Journey (Amy Johansson) – a shot looking down on a woman riding on the link between two rail carriages – is hard to beat.
I wont go on. If you can’t get to the exhibition the catalogue is worth the £15 in my opinion – it even has a thought provoking introduction - ‘What Makes a Good Portrait?’ – which contains a quote which has gone straight in to my top ten favourites: “If a picture has for everybody exactly the same meaning, it is a platitude and it is meaningless as a work of art.” (Philippe Halsman).
The exhibition finishes in London on 20 February but the shots will be on display again at The Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens from 16 April until 26 June 2011.

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