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The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

January 24, 2014

ArtsPhotography | by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford


Phoebe and the Rat by Laura Stevens ©Laura Stevens
Phoebe and the Rat by Laura Stevens ©Laura Stevens

Do you think portraiture is all about head shots and those tacky over-posed family photos? Or perhaps your a photographer yourself in need of some inspiration? Then you should make time to peruse the best that contemporary portraiture has to offer, which is being served up in the form of the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize by the Portrait Gallery until February 9th.

Hombres de Mar (Fishermen) by Proyecto Mírame Lima © Proyecto Mírame Lima
Hombres de Mar (Fishermen) by Proyecto Mírame Lima © Proyecto Mírame Lima

There is a nice selection this year with a generous sprinkling of celebrity portraits, including one of her majesty the Queen, a nice mix of global locations and a little bizarrely, three portraits showing sets of twins. The exhibition encompasses a wide range of photography styles from intimate and informal works like Laura Steven’s image of a naked Phoebe cuddling her pet rat, perched on the end of a bed where her partner lays sleeping, to large group shots of fishermen or extended traveller families. If you find traditional portraiture lacks a certain depth, you won’t be disappointed by this show; the stories behind a number of the works on display confront important issues or evoke emotional distress. Jari Salo tackles the modern day issue of drug abuse and parenthood head-on with an image from his Heroin Fathers series. The familiar topic of the pursuit for the ideal female body is tackled in fresh new ways by provocative photographs like Ji Yeo’s image of a young Korean woman after a cosmetic surgery procedure popularised by a culture in pursuit of the western look. Néstor Díaz tackles the subject from an opposing angle with a topless portrait of a woman called Sofía who chose to bare her scar for the photo, having undergone a mastectomy.

Jari and Terhi by Jari Salo ©Jari Salo
Jari and Terhi by Jari Salo ©Jari Salo

The winning image by Spencer Murphy captures female jockey Katie Walsh fresh off the race course, mud spattered and still in her racing silks. Photographed as part of a series of jump jockeys’ portraits for Channel Four’s The Original Extreme Sport campaign. Murphy says of the portrait ‘I was keen to include Katie, I wanted to show both her femininity and the toughness of spirit she requires to compete against the best riders in one of the most demanding disciplines in horse racing. I chose to shoot the series on large format film, to give the images a depth and timelessness that I think would have been hard to achieve on a digital camera’.

Katie Walsh by Spencer Murphy ©Spencer Murphy
Katie Walsh by Spencer Murphy ©Spencer Murphy

If you fancy getting up close and personal with Katie Walsh and immersing yourself in the beauty of large format film, or exploring the best of contemporary portraiture and the stories behind the images, make sure you do it fast. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize closes on the 9th of February. For more information go to – www.npg.org.uk

Words by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford, Arts Editor