Each year the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize celebrates the best contemporary portrait photography from both inside and outside the UK. Fortunately for us, Sheffield is the only city outside of London to display the entries for 2014, proving a real testament to the city’s vibrant arts landscape. Originally held at the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition consists of 59 images selected from a pool of over 4,000 entries.
The hotly-tipped first prize was awarded to Konrad Lars Hastings Titlow by David Titlow, a gentle image that emulates the paintings of Dutch Golden era. Whilst it is, in my opinion, a well-deserved win, it begs the question, how do we define ‘a portrait’? This image, along with many of the other unconventional entries, has opened up a wider debate of where the line should be drawn between portraiture and reportage. This is one that only you can decide upon for yourself (after visiting the exhibition, of course!).
The collection touches on critical global issues, such as high unemployment levels in Greece, firearms ownership in the USA and acid attacks in Southern Asia. Ann-Christine Woehrl’s image of an acid attack burn attack victim, Christine, and her boyfriend, Moses, is particularly shocking. The non-descript setting and simple side lighting create an intimate atmosphere and a captivating view into their shared trauma.
There are moments of joy and delight however, delivered by Buki Koshoni’s Embrace which captures a tender moment just after his son’s birth. Whilst these broad, evocative topics continue to uphold the wide scope and relevance of the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, it is some of the simpler, children’s portraits that have stuck in my mind.
The first four prizes and the John Cobal New Work Award have all been awarded to photographs showcasing the lives of children and teenagers, demonstrating their unique ability perform for the camera.
Celebrities and politicians also feature in a handful of commissions, at the risk of becoming a ‘who’s who’ of modern TV broadcasting. Entries starring Lenny Henry, Olivia Colman and David Cameron are arguably some of the weakest of the collection.
The exhibition consists of a mixture of studio and location shoots. At times, the studio locations and rigid poses produce an artificiality that overwhelms the subject in hand, but luckily this is minimal. Many subjects are shot in their own homes and natural environments, where they are able to breathe and seem at peace with the camera lens before them.
One photograph – Unexpected by Lenka Rayn H – challenges the stiff studio atmosphere entirely, instead transforming it into a safe and intimate environment for the subject. The photograph features the young daughter of a friend of the photographer’s. The girl’s messy bob and poised expression combine to create a sense that she is wise beyond her years. It is certainly one of, if not the most, captivating entry in the collection.
The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2014 is one of the most exciting photography exhibitions that I’ve seen in recent years. It is without a doubt worth a visit.
The exhibition is at the Millennium Gallery until Sunday 16 August.
Words: Melissa Fawcett.
Image 1: Dog and Boy © Laurence Cartwright.
Image 2: Konrad Lars Hastings Titlow © David Titlow.