On November 13th the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Award, staged annually at The National Portrait Gallery, will open its doors to the public. The Prize, with a top award of £12,000, showcases sixty new portraits ranging from editorial to creative projects by photographers worldwide. The prize is significant in the photography world’s calendar and, this year, attracted more than 4,000 submissions completing for four cash prizes or a ‘New Work Award’ (given to a photographer under 30).
As 2014’s prize opens, last year’s prize is, curiously, still making the rounds and can currently be found on display at The Beaney, Canterbury. The reason for this is likely to be 2013’s top prize winner Spencer Murphy’s connection to Kent, having grown up in the region and studied for his BA at Kent Institute of Art and Design. Kent have reason to be proud of Murphy as his portrait of Katie Walsh marked the seventh time Murphy has exhibited in the Taylor Wessing Prize. In 2012 he also won second prize for his portrait of actor Mark Rylance. His winning 2013 portrait of female jockey Walsh was taken at Kempton Park racecourse whilst shooting a series of jockey portraits for Channel Four’s The Original Extreme Sports Campaign and was an attempt, says Murphy, “to show both her femininity and the toughness of spirit she requires”. The result is haunting. Walsh stares directly at the camera, her expression is both shy, slightly resentful but completely timeless. Shot directly after the race she is also exhausted, covered in mud and dishevelled. It is easy to forget her jockey outfit, its colour and shape have a Victorian crinoline feel – Walsh is rendered as Tess of the d’Urbervilles fresh from the Moor.
Taylor Wessing’s 2014 shortlisted photographers, Jessica Fulford-Dobson, Birgit Püve, Blerim Racaj and David Titlow have, interestingly as the prize does not normally focus on one specific theme, all been selected based on their images depicting aspects of childhood. Skate-girls in Kabul sit alongside twin boys at their home in Estonia, Kosovian teens and a new baby son being introduced to a dog.
I think it’s an easy one to call this year. A strong contender is Fulford-Dobson’s Skate-Girl from the series ‘The Skate-Girls of Kabul’ documenting young Afghan girls that attend the unique NGO Skateistan which started life as a small skateboarding school in 2007. The image certainly has the story and the political weight which could give it the edge but my bets are going on Titlow’s Konrad Lars Hastings Titlow. The photographer has captured the moment when, the night after a midsummer party in Sweden, his baby son meets a dog, the little child’s fingers touching the dogs black wet nose with delight. “everyone was a bit hazy from the previous day′s excess” says Titlow “my girlfriend passed our son to the subdued revellers on the sofa – the composition and back light was so perfect that I had to capture the moment”. It is not just the slight oddity of the situation, the momentary recognition and understanding between baby and animal, but the atmosphere of the image that, in my mind, put this photograph in the lead. The composition, with its multiple players and narratives form a dramatic tableau that is both contemporary and historic. Timeless images often win out in this photographic prize; last year’s Katie Walsh, 2012’s portrait of Margarita Teichroeb by Jordi Ruiz Cirera or 2010’s Huntress with Buck by David Chancellor to name just a few.
Anyway, we’ll see what happens.
You have until Sunday 2nd November to catch Taylor Wessing13 at The Beaney, Canterbury.