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LONDON COMMENTS / PHOTOGRAPHY

by Robynne Limoges-The 3 Nines Arts

2018 Taylor Wessing Portraiture Prize

National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition - Continues until 19 January 2019


Begun in 2003, The now Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2018 is considered one of the leading international competitions, open to all, to celebrate and promote the very best in contemporary portrait photography from around the world. It showcases young photographers, gifted amateurs and established professionals, a diverse range of images, from formal commissioned portraits to more spontaneous and intimate moments capturing friends and family.

The selected images, many of which will be exhibited for the first time, explore both traditional and contemporary approaches to the photographic portrait, whilst capturing a range of characters, moods and locations. The exhibition of fifty-seven works features all of the prestigious prize winners, including the winner of the £15,000 first prize.

It is unusual for an artist to become the vehicle for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize to re-invent itself, but Alice Mann, a South African photographer based in London, has achieved just that. For the first time in its history, the top prize was given to Mann for her four-part series of young female drum majorettes, DRUMMIES. Previously, the awards were given to single portraits.

The judges deemed Mann's series so strong, they made the decision mid-judging to change the protocol for the entire competition, one assumes for the future as well as for 2018. Their comments: "Mann's series is consistent in its evocation of a sustained and intriguing narrative. Each sitter is precisely framed within a carefully considered composition, and the girls confidently meet the camera's gaze. Their pristine and vibrant outfits jar with the rundown surroundings, lending a surreal and enigmatic atmosphere to the portraits."

The series shows five young girls from Cape Town dressed as 'drummies' – a popular hobby for children from some of South Africa's most disadvantaged communities. Mann spent three months photographing drum majorettes, and says her winning portraits "...come from a much larger series, which is a combination of a more documentary approach and portraits."

©All portraits, Alice Mann

DRUMMIES

(a series of four works)

Alice Mann

Inkjet Print, September 2017

First Prize £15,000

Alice Mann (05.09.1991) is a South African photographic artist based in London whose intimate portraiture essays explore notions of picture making as an act of collaboration. Her shortlisted series was shot in South Africa's Western Province, focusing on the all-female teams of drum majorettes. Alice Mann says, 'For these girls, involvement in 'drummies' becomes a vehicle for them to excel, and the distinctive uniforms serve as a visual marker of perceived success and represents emancipation from their surroundings. Continuing my consideration into notions of femininity and empowerment in modern society, it was my intent to create images that reflect the pride and confidence the girls achieve through identifying as 'drummies'.'

Extract from an interview with Alice Mann, by ISSUE Magazine (©ISSUE MAGAZINE)

Alice Mann cites her childhood in post-apartheid South Africa as a catalyst for her photographic work, which focuses on racial stereotyping and "othering" in contemporary society and the complex politics of representation involved.

Mann's Southern Suburbs is a series of stark portraits juxtaposing the upper-middle-class inhabitants of Cape Town's suburbs (what Mann calls "South Africa's white elite") and the people who work for them. The portraits are taken at the homes in which the subjects either live or work—including a self-portrait of Mann in her own home—emphasizing the economic rift between owners and employees. Straightforward and formal, these images highlight the tension of uneven social dynamics and a shared undertone of alienation and isolation.

Mann currently splits her time between London and Cape Town, and continues to explore the social and racial complexities of South Africa through her work.

Where are you from?

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, which is where I grew up and attended university.

When I graduated, I moved to London and have been based between both places since.

When did you start making art?

I always needed a creative outlet and enjoy being busy with something. I'm happiest when

I have a project in progress. This has been the case as far back as I can remember.

Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?

I was very lucky that I was able to meet and work with some very prolific South African

photographers while still studying and interning. I am constantly inspired by the work

coming out of South Africa and the way different artists engage with the country and its

history. I think the work of Pieter Hugo, Charles Freger and Rineke Dijkstra has been

influential on me and my photography in some way.

How would you describe your style?

I like to work on series and am very inspired by people. I try create images that are

visually interesting and beautiful, but it is important that my work addresses

something. I feel my portraits are quite formal.

How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?

In my third year at university I started to take it more seriously and look at it as a possible

career option—I think it was 2013. I studied a BA in fine art with a major in photography.

Up to that point, my heart was set on being an art director. I went to an internship at a big

advertising firm where it clicked for me that I wanted to be more involved in making things.

2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, Second Place

Enda Bowe

from the series Clapton Blossom.

C-type print

Second Prize: £3,000

The winner of the Second Prize was Enda Bowe (21.05.1972), an Irish photographer based in London. Bowe's work is concerned with storytelling and the search for light and beauty in the ordinary. He has had work exhibited at Red Hook Gallery, New York; The V&A Museum, London; Fotohof, Salzburg: Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin and The Visual Centre Of Contemporary Art, Ireland. The photograph selected, a portrait of Cybil and Lulu, is from a series of portraits titled Clapton Blossom. Bowe says, 'the series focuses on finding the colour and beauty in the urban, the light in the grey. At the centre of the housing estate where this project was made stands a huge cherry blossom tree, the unifying heart of the estate. The beauty of the blossom, symbolising hope, optimism and new beginnings connects the people within the project together.'

Judges' comments: Bowe's tender portrait traces the emotional connection between a new parent and her baby, evoking traditional compositions of a mother and child. Further scrutiny reveals details, including Cybil's piercings, tattoos and adorned nails, which with the urban setting, give a contemporary update to this classical theme.

© Enda Bowe

2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, Third Place (Joint)

Max Barstow

Inkjet Print, June 2017

Third Prize: £2000

Joint Third Prize went to Max Barstow (25.05.1994), a London-born photographer with an interest in images about city life, with his work inspired by a combination of studio and documentary photography. The photograph selected, a double portrait of two shoppers, has been taken from Barstow's series titled, Londoners. Barstow says, "I began creating the series with the aim to make un-posed portraits with the intensity of images made by great studio portrait photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. The photograph selected is a strongly composed and graphically-arresting image. It freezes a pair of friends shopping in the flow of a busy Summer Sunday afternoon in the centre of London. 'I believe the image is peculiarly interesting as a portrait in that it was taken swiftly in the middle of a crowd of passers-by – it is, unusually, both a formally successful portrait with a classic studio-aesthetic and a street photograph in the broad idiom of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand."

Judges' comments: This arresting double portrait, with its stark white background, possess a classic studio aesthetic, isolating the two women from their surroundings in an unexplained tableau. The precision and tonal balance of the composition is all the more remarkable for having been taken in a fleeting moment on a busy London Street.

©Max Barstow

2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, Third Place (Joint)

Joey Lawrence

Chromogenic colour print / C-type print, May 2017

From the series Tombo's Wound

Third Prize: £2000

Joint Third Prize also went to Joey Lawrence (05.11.1989), a Canadian-born photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, celebrated for both his humanitarian projects and high-profile commissions. Lawrence has built his style by dedicating vast amount of time and resources to passion projects which focus on the humanity in underserved communities. Commissioned by WaterAid, Lawrence's shortlisted portrait of Joe Smart is part of a series shot in Tombohuaun, translation 'Tombo's Wound,' a remote village tucked into the jungle of Sierra Leone's Eastern Province struggling with water-borne illnesses.

"Rather than just creating images that underscored Tombohuaun's plight", Lawrence says, "WaterAid and I envisioned a portrait study of the community that would highlight its resilience, its fraternity, its highly organized structure, and its work ethic. These are all the traits that will enable the village to thrive and sustain its clean water resources and practices long after the NGO has completed its work."

Judges' comments: Emerging from a lush palette of green foliage, 'Strong' Joe Smart's expression proves utterly captivating. Lawrence's use of focus draws attention to the young boy's grass headdress, suggesting childhood games. This contrasts with his resolved gaze, of a maturity that belies his age.

©Joey Lawrence
Artur Janin, Photographer
Eliott Erwitt

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