Highlights from this year’s selection at the National Portrait Gallery
The prize-winning photographs and those selected for inclusion in the exhibition were chosen from 4929 submissions entered by 2201 photographers from 70 countries. For me, of all the entries, this picture by Tereza Cervenova should have been the winner. It’s an arresting image with painterly qualities; a classical beauty in profile with curly long red hair reminiscent of Renaissance painting. As the sitter rests her head against the window her hair forms a straight vertical line.
When I asked the Slovakian-born photographer if the picture was indeed inspired by a Raphael painting she says it was not intentional. She took the picture of Yngvild when they met for the preparation of the wedding of a mutual friend. “I only shot one role of film and took one or two pictures of her profile,” Cervenova explains. “It was a spontaneous picture of the sitter in an off-guard moment.” Although the picture was not awarded the first prize, it did win the John Kobal New Work award and is features on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.
Another picture that was inspired by Classical and Renaissance art is Anoush Abrar’s ‘Hector’. The photographer has a fascination with Caravaggio’s work, particularly his painting ‘Sleeping Cupid’ from 1608. What the works have in common is that both cherubs look older than their age, in particular Hector who looks very wise.
The jury awarded the first prize to David Stewart. The photographer was inspired by the photograph he entered in 2008. Just like filmmaker Michael Apted’s ‘The Up Series’ – one episode every seven years follows the lives of fourteen British children – Stewart restaged the picture of his daughter and four of her friends. In the seven years they seem to have improved their eating habits as in 2008 they were photographed behind two round tables with remnants of fast food in front of them, seven years later they are sitting behind one rectangular wooden table with remnants of salads and sushi in front of them.
Now, the girls have grown into young women and Stewart positioned them at the same position and asked them to copy their pose. The common thread in these pictures is the feeling invoked by them, which inspired the photograph of this group of girls. Stewart commented: ‘I have always had a fascination with the way people interact – or, in this case, fail to interact. While the girls are physically very close and their style and clothing highlight their membership of the same peer group, there is an element of distance between them.”
Honestly, I’m a bit confused by Stewart’s statement. Usually girls at that age are very lively amongst each other, but these girls in this highly stylized image are not. Did the girls in his 2008 picture strike the pose themselves? Did he observe this and capture it on film? With his 2015 picture he, as a photographer, directed the girls to take the same pose and sit in the same position, so isn’t the lack of interaction then completely manipulated by him?
Written by Thierry Somers
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2015, until 21 Februari 2016 at the National Portrait gallery London