We’re back around to that time of year again, where the winners of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize are announced. As a portrait guy myself, I adore this competition and the results it produces, especially when it’s time to take a wander around London’s National Portrait Gallery and see the selected entries in print. You may recall that last year’s winning entry was David Chancellor’s Huntress With Buck – a striking image of a young, red headed girl on horseback, the recently killed buck draped over the horse’s neck. Interestingly, this year’s winner bears some thematic similarities, albeit in a somewhat more humane context.
This years winning entry is entitled “Harriet and Gentleman Jack”, by Jooney Woodward. The portrait is of 13 year old Harriet Power and her guinea pig, Gentleman Jack. It’s interesting to draw parallels between this and Chancellor’s winning image last year. Both are of young, red headed girls, creating a striking contrast in the image. In addition, the animals in both images are also red / auburn in shade, which complements and creates a visual connection between the subject and the animal. What’s really neat about comparing these two images is that they have a major contrasting difference in the story they tell: “Huntress With Buck” portrays a world where animals can sometimes be seen as tools and commodities, whereas “Harriet and Gentleman Jack” portrays a world of the animal as a pet, as a companion.
Personally, I find the winning entry this year to be encouraging and proof that the judges are on the right track with this competition. Whilst I love portrait competitions, sometimes I get the sinking feeling that, with some competitions, there is often too heavy an emphasis on an portrait having to be about the exotic, or the extreme, or the exploitative: images of homeless people or perhaps of someone in shocking living conditions, be it in a third world country or in a down-and-out part of New York.
Whilst I appreciate photography’s unique ability to illuminate ways of life that would otherwise remain hidden to all and the subsequent value and importance of such images, it’s just nice to see that, hey, people without problems have interesting lives and personalities too. A photographer shouldn’t feel they should have to ingest a cocktail of vaccines and travel to the most obscure corners of the Earth in order to create a portrait of worth. I’m also pleased that the actual subject matter of the images that were shortlisted this year feels fresh and original. It inspires me and helps me realise that there are still new ideas to be found out there – we just need to look for them!
If you live in London or you’re planning on visiting, you would be absolutely mad to not give the exhibition a look. It’s on at the National Portrait Gallery for only £2.