Monday 15 February 2010

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

© Paul Floyd Blake, Rosie Bancroft, 2008

If success begets success then the latest incarnation of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2009 at The National Portrait Gallery is no exception. Strong, varied and utterly captivating, the show presents the very best in contemporary portrait photography. Featuring students' work alongside established photographers, the competition is democratic at heart, and this year attracted over 2,400 photographers who submitted more than 6,300 images.

First prize was awarded to Paul Floyd Blake for his shortlisted portrait Rosie Bancroft, 2009 from an ongoing project entitled On Track for 2012. Shot with a large format 5x4 field camera, the head on image shows a young athlete who has the potential to complete in the 2012 Olympics despite having her right foot removed when she was ten months old. The sitters' posture is at once powerful yet tender, the lighting delicate and the composition carefully considered.

Speaking about the wider project the photographer says, "The series is probably less about sport than it is about young people growing up and the transition from childhood into adulthood. These teenagers exist in this ultra-professional world that can often be very isolating. It is about them growing up and how the experiences they have now shape them for the future."

Elsewhere, Vanessa Winship (who I have already featured here), scooped second prize for Girl in a Golden Dress, Georgia, 2009 from the series Georgia Song. Winship is the queen of the poetic portrait and her chosen photograph was taken on one of several trips to Georgia where she was searching for people who somehow reflected the contemporary ethos of the country. "I found this particular young girl in the capital, Tbilisi, at one of the Palaces of Marriage," she said. "I liked the delicacy of her features and the way she held herself in what looked like a new and best outfit."

Other prize winners included Michal Chelbin (Murder, Juvenile Prison, Russia 2009 from the series Locked) whose quiet but terse portrait depicts Stas, a fifteen-year-old boy who is an inmate at a high security prison in Russia and Mijana Vrbaski's more immediate and striking Girl, a photograph of anonymous girl taken in June 2009 in Netherlands.

Through an alluring mix of editorial, advertising and fine art photography, the competition broaches an equally broad range of themes, styles and subjects from the commissioned portrait to the more spontaneous family snapshot. Clearly, contemporary portraiture is very much alive and kicking and the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize provides a unique opportunity to see some of the most exciting and inspiring work from photography's current cream of the crop.

The exhibition has unfortunately closed now at National Portrait Gallery but there is still time to catch at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead from 27 March to 6 June 2010 and The Art Gallery Walsall from 16 July to 12 September 2010. The exhibition tour is organised by the National Portrait Gallery.

This article was originally published as a news story in the February issue of a-n magazine