Thursday, 29 November 2012

A sea of faces

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery. I very rarely do portrait work myself but I still find images of the human face endlessly fascinating. It is often said that a good portrait should reveal something of the subject's character but in reality looks can be deceptive and it is a bit simplistic to draw evidence of a person's inner life from their outer appearance. It's more likely that looking at a portrait reinforces our sense of what it means to be human: we may get a feeling of identification and empathy or sometimes the complete opposite - antipathy and alienation, or we may like to attach our own narrative to the picture on show.

I usually approach this show with mixed feelings and inevitably feel let down when my favourites fail to win a prize! Without exception every year I find the reasoning behind some of the judges' choices unfathomable - why some were picked and others ignored - but as always with photography and art in general, preference is entirely subjective. The exhibition attracts a huge number of entries and the selection process is entirely anonymous. The successful entrants range from  professional photographers submitting highly polished work commissioned by newspapers and magazines through to students and amateur photographers.

On display are the usual suspects - wan and miserable young people staring balefully into the camera, a sprinkling of glossy sports stars and celebrities, some of staggeringly huge proportions where every pore and hair is magnified, and a couple of provocative nudes including some children, which given current issues surrounding child welfare I found rather surprising! I felt that some hardly ranked as a portrait at all and seemed more like a figure in the landscape, so small in the frame did the person appear. In amongst this lot however were some gems - a beautiful and quietly dignified portrait of a girl with Down's Syndrome, a Libyan migrant worker caught through a rain-streaked bus window, an African boy framed by the natural light streaming into a dark schoolroom - all really strong and memorable images. Unfortunately none of these images seem to be available on the web but here are some of the prize winners and a few others that caught my eye....

1st prize winner: Margarita Teichroeb by Jordi Ruiz Cirera  

 2nd prize winner: Lynne, Brighton by Jennifer Pattison

 Lola Smoking from the series Off the Set by Alice Pavese Fiori

Michael Stipe by Matthew Lloyd

Kitty, Christine and Kira by Lydia Panas

Gillian Wearing by Robin Friend from the series Sanctuary: Artists and their Studios

Julie Hill by Peer Lindgreen

Hilary Mantel by Michael Birt

The exhibition runs until 17th February 2013 - details here.  All images copyright the artist.

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