27 May 2019
"Five Girls 2014" by (c) David Stewart
"Five Girls 2014" by (c) David Stewart

Winning portraits: Gripping images of ordinary people

Now in its 22nd year, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Award organized by the National Portrait Gallery in the UK is a major international photography competition that accepts submissions from all over the world.

While the majority of the winners are professionally trained, others are self-taught artists with photography experience. Entries are judged on an equal and anonymous basis, and the competition attracts as many as 5,000 submissions from over 70 countries.

Many of the winning artworks are portraitures of photographers’ own family or children, and articulate a sense of authenticity and intimacy.

“Five Girls” by David Stewart won the top prize of 12,000 pounds (US$17,230).

It’s a group portrait of his daughter and her friends. “While the girls are physically very close and their style and clothing highlight they are of the same peer group, there is an element of distance between them,” Stewart notes.

The Lancaster-born artist began his career taking pictures of punk bands and preferred large format photography to the digital, since the former offers more room for details and render a heightened sense of reality.

“Richard Avedon and Irving Penn are my early influences,” he says. “I am also inspired by the people and culture I see everyday, including music, the cinema and fashion.’”

This is the sixteenth time Stewart’s works have been shortlisted in the prestigious exhibition.

The second prize went to “Hector”, by Anoush Abrar, a memorable shoot of a baby in an angelic, half-sitting pose.

Abrar chose a stark, studio black background, which adds a timeless quality to the portrait and reminds the viewer of Renaissance images of cherubs.

Another noteworthy entry was “Winter Virus”, by Sian Davey, which features the artist’s daughter Alice at home recovering from her illness. It captures brilliantly the little girl’s candid and authentic expression.

Some exhibits present themselves as investigations into contemporary social and political issues. For example, Kai Wiedenhöfer’s shocking images of the injured bodies of Syrian children bring home the cruelty of war.

Then there is Ines Dumig’s portrait of a Somali woman in Germany, who is waiting for a ruling on her refugee status. The uncertainty in the woman’s expression articulates the sad lives of refugees who have no power to decide their fate.

Jason Larkin’s work, “7 Hours, 30 Minutes”, is a touching documentary about a homeless man in Johannesburg, standing at the road junction for that amount of time, yet unable to beg for any money.

Because of the way he stands in the shade on a sunny day, one cannot see the man’s face, and this invites sympathy as well as highlights the deprivation of the underclass.

This year, the 5,000-pound John Kobal New Work Award went to Slovakian-born artist Tereza Červeňová for her portrait of a friend at a wedding, “Yngvild”.

Interestingly, portraits of strangers in everyday situations can be as captivating as those of celebrities.

“Danielle” by Sophie Green is a tender image of a girl with her back facing the camera, watching her boyfriend take part in a car race at Wimbledon’s Bangers and Smash cafe.

The photograph dwells on the delicate tattoo on her nape, showing how details of a picture can offer a personal touch.

“Village Butcher” by Joseph Smith is an excellent picture that captures faithfully the work environment of a third-generation butcher in Malta.

As in previous years, portraits of the famous are not lacking. There are the images of US President Barack Obama and his wife; Benedict Cumberlatch; and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in her polka-dots studio.

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A’Amar Yassir Salamat (left), 8, from "Forty Out Of One Million" by (c) Kai Wiedenhöfer; and "Winter Virus" by (c) Sian Davey, featuring the artist’s daughter Alice

"Danielle" by (c) Sophie Green

"7 Hours, 30 mins" (left) by (c) Jason Larkin; and ‘Yngvild’ by (c) Tereza Cervenova

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