On days when I work in the art gallery office, I like to prop the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize postcard on my desk near the computer screen. Wafa by Felix Carprio, the portrait of the young Muslim woman fascinates me, with her embroidered green headpiece and her demure, timeless and placid smile.
Another gripping image is the artpiece Portrait of my British Wife by Panayiotis Lamprou, which won the second prize. Taken on an island of the Aegean Sea, it is a shockingly intimate portrait, with the woman only half dressed, revealing her private parts. The picture unsettles the viewer by giving one so much detail, exposing the highly intimate relationship between the photographed and the photographer.
The £12,000 award is presented to David Chancellor for an image on a young huntress with her prey. The sense of freedom glimpsed in the expansive landscape, coupled with the reserved, proud and almost heroic gaze of the young huntress, contrast with the irrevocable, disturbing stillness of the carcass. I admire the painting-like composition of the image, and the non-judgmental perspective of the photograph that seems to represent killing as a fact, neither romanticizing nor criticising the act.
A closer look sheds light on the relevance of professional practice and training in photography. While digital photography using auto function compacts has been made easier and more accessible than ever, one will notice many of the showcased photographers have worked in art-related roles for many years, especially in image production, submitting to magazines, competitions and photography salons from time to time. The value of experience. Meanwhile, the assessment for such prizes is questioned (for details, see FT’s article). I admit, though I like a handful of the entries, I find some not as riveting, perhaps even a little too casual in their efforts to represent a subject or person.
The collection of photos are exhibited from now until February 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery.