Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery

Some years ago I attended a selection day for the annual Cotswold Monochrome Salon, it has a reasonable reputation not only within amateur monochrome workers, but also from certain professionals and photographers from Europe and the USA who are, or were, regular entrants. I had been selected a number of times before and it had been good to see my prints alongside others in this quite selective field of photography, so I thought I would offer a hand to help with the process of selection and learn for myself how the selectors go about their business. The ‘experts’ are chosen for being highly thought of in the field of monochrome photography and, though I can’t remember their names now, I remember recognising the names of the three that held the fate of the entrants in their hands. The selection process took two days and the number of prints in all were around 1000 – all shapes and sizes, categorised into genre’s of landscape, portrait, digital and traditional. The hung number was about 75 and ‘best-of’ category winners were also selected.

I’m not sure how long, over the two days that messrs Nairne and his cohorts had taken to choose their winners for the TW show, had to view each print, but I’d initially thought that their professional lives would have prohibited them to review over 5000 prints, albeit in the same category of portrait, not so apparently. Those erstwhile selectors in the ‘Salon’ depressed me so much by their inattention to the 1000 images in front of them – spending no more than a few seconds in the initial down-select, that I decided that I would never enter another print for that Salon or any other similar event. Up until that point I hadn’t participated in photographic competitions of any sort and I had fooled myself that a ‘Salon’ wasn’t one and that photo’ battles and comp’s, which are food and drink to camera clubs, was the main reason for my never having been a member of one. These luminaries, whose riddling for the TW event, must surely have put in a similar amount of time per print as the ‘Salon’ crew in order to produce a manageable quantity for the process of final selection in the time allotted. That being said, the prints on show at the NPG are all very good prints, but my initial thoughts were not about the prints, sad to say, rather the catalogue.

The catalogue is £15.00 with a £2 refund against the price of admission to the TW show, it is the same size as ever about eleven inches by about nine and oriented in a portrait format (why wouldn’t it be). The editors of the catalogue felt impelled, it seems, to scale the images in the catalogue to fit the page, so that Tal Blum’s moderately sized monochrome print entitled RAZ 2012 appears to have the grandiosity as Michael Birt’s (slightly quirky grandly proportioned portrait) entitled Hilary Mantel, CBE. and any of the artists selected unfortunate enough to have decided on a ‘landscape’ Portrait, really did have their work reduced in the catalogue.

To the various works: Robin Friend’s portrait of Gillian Wearing seemed a play on Wearing’s own work of masks, he has her standing behind a net curtain of sorts looking blankly out and was interesting because of that. The photograph of Mantel looked as though she was placing herself into one of her books, rather than the photographer doing so, but I suppose all portraits are a contrivance between sitter and artist. The same could be perhaps said of Sam Faulkner’s study of Jane Goodall – looking as though she were aping some of her subjects for the delight of the photographer. There were a good mix of subjects and I think that this years collection of assorted images is perhaps better than most. I suppose it is only right, in a competition of independent photographs that bear little connection with each-other that I might choose one that ‘took my eye’. Well that would be  Fiona Yaron-Field’s ‘Becoming Annalie‘ see here. For me this quite large print tenderly portrayed the subject with great humility, it has a painterly feel – an expression that I think may be over-used, but in this instance quite worthy I think. The tonal palette is restricted to mainly blues and the overall effect is one of great tenderness and beauty, though the web-site image has a greener feel to it. I’m not sure whether I looked at this image any longer than I looked at any of the others – I think perhaps I did – or whether I looked at this photograph any longer than the judges did, no way of knowing really.

It is all about marketing of course and if these artists become better known because of their good fortune to have been selected in the few seconds or so that it took to ensure they made the first cut, then good luck to them I shall certainly have a look at some of these photographers work as I hadn’t heard of some of them before – I wonder if the selectors are made aware of the artist before they make their first cutting judgement? Well there’s another thing to think about.


8 thoughts on “Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery

  1. I bought the catalogues last year and the year before. They seem good value for the quality and information. I wasn’t going to go this year but maybe I will. Fiona Yaron-Field looks an interesting photographer. I felt drawn towards the way she describes herself.

      • I think to gain a deeper perspective I’d have to spend some time looking at those particular images. I’ve subscribed to Uncertain States newsletter now and have downloaded the edition regarding Becoming Annalie. Have also ordered her book about her daughter.
        You’re always giving me new things to think about!

  2. Pingback: Fiona Yaron-Field | John Umney – Gesture and Meaning

  3. Pingback: The lonely image at the Taylor Wessing show in Bristol | John Umney - Documentary

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