My annual pilgrimage to the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Competition

I made my annual pilgrimage to my favourite venue in London, the National Portrait Gallery where this year’s Taylor Wessing Portrait prize winners and other selected images where on show. The exhibition of images celebrates and promotes the very best in contemporary portrait photography from around the world. It’s always a pleasure to see how other photo artist ply they’re skills and artistic vision when applied to photographic portraiture. I have to say that it’s my favourite genre of photography, something which on the face of it is so simple and direct, but it’s so much more, creating and sculpturing a beautiful, beguiling and evocative photographic image.

5,000 images from 70 countries where whittled down to the winning entry from London based photographer Alice Mann who’s series on a All-female Drum Majorette group from Cape Town in South Africa, won this years £15,000 first prize. Although a worthy winner, it was definitely not my favourite set of images from the selected entries. But I’ve always disagreed with the winning selection, like so many others who take an interest in the competition.

Mann said: “These four portraits are some of my favourite images, especially the one of Riley and Wakiesha because they are so charismatic. 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.”

'Keisha Ncube, Cape Town, South Africa, 2017 from the series Drummies'

'Keisha Ncube, Cape Town, South Africa, 2017 from the series Drummies'

There certainly was a high percentage of images which feature female subjects this year, all very strong and emotive in their execution, and all worthy of being selected for the main prize.

It’s a wonderful example of what can be achieve by looking with purpose and intent, finding interesting or maybe not so interesting subjects, but by encapsulating the beauty of one’s subject or capturing aesthetically any subtle nuances your subject might possess is a skill worth striving for, for any concerned photographer.

1) Untitled from the series Londoners by Max Barstow 2)  Cybil McAddy with daughter Lulu from the series Clapton Blossom by Enda Bowe 3) Portrait of 'Strong' Joe Smart from the series Tombo's Wound by Joey Lawrence

“I seek what lies beneath surface beauty. What interests me are intimate human complexities – the darkness as well as the light. I cannot will this kind of transcendent communication into existence. I have to be open and truly present, and if I am lucky, grace descends. My best photographs are an honest collaboration, and when the viewer also connects, I feel the circle is complete”.
   -Joyce Tennyson

For me, it’s a never ending search, I’m constantly looking for interesting opportunities, and people to include in my work, whether through documentary photography, environmental portraiture or staged portraits. Every portrait I take is a challenge, one that keeps me engaged and committed to my profession and passion.

john Ferguson