Annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 Shortlist Announced

Three photographers have been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, the major international photography award organised by the National Portrait Gallery, London. The prize-winning portraits include photographs of a group of Israeli Orthodox Jews by Kovi Konowiecki; a Johannesburg schoolboy by Claudio Rasano and a Californian surfer and his girlfriend by Joni Sternbach. 

The annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world and showcases new work that has been submitted by some of the most exciting and cutting-edge contemporary photographers. Since the international competition began in 1993, it has remained a hugely important platform for portrait photographers and offers an unparalleled opportunity for celebrated professionals, emerging artists and amateurs alike.

Judged anonymously, the diversity of styles in the exhibition reflects the international mix of entries as well as photographers’ individual and varied approaches to the genre of portraiture. Photographers were again encouraged to submit works as a series in addition to stand-alone portraits, and there was no minimum size requirement for prints. Recognising the popularity of alternative processes among contemporary photographers, this year the competition was widened to include photographs produced on supports other than paper. 

The prize-winning photographs and those selected for inclusion in the exhibition were chosen from 4,303 submissions entered by 1,842 photographers from 61 different countries. A total of 58 portraits from 44 artists were selected for display, of which 10 were part of a series. 

This year’s exhibition will also feature previously unseen prints from a new body of work by the award-winning Spanish photographer, Cristina de Middel. The prints will form the second In Focus display, an annual showcase for new work by an internationally renowned photographer, which will be exhibited alongside the photographs selected from the competition entries. De Middel is known for investigating photography’s ambiguous relationship to truth. 

Blending documentary and conceptual photographic practices, she plays with reconstructions and archetypes that blur the border between reality and fiction. De Middel produced the critically acclaimed series The Afronauts in 2012, which explored the history of a failed space programme in Zambia in the 1960s through staged re-enactments.

American artist Kovi Konowiecki was born and raised in Long Beach, California. After pursuing a professional career in football, Kovi is receiving his Master of Arts in photography from the University of the Arts in London. His work lies between documentary and fine art, often focusing on portraiture and telling stories that reveal his identity, including his experiences of growing up in Long Beach. Shimi, Beitar Illit and Tilly and Itty, Beitar Illit are part of a series of pigment prints that portray Orthodox Jews from around the world. The colours and floral background create a painting-like quality, highlighting the mysticism of the subjects and their association with a history that many may find unfamiliar. Konowiecki explains: When I set out to photograph the faces of Orthodox Jews around the world, it was an attempt to both strengthen my ties to my familys history and shed light on the traditions of a people that seem strange to modern society. The project started by contacting members of the Jewish community from where I  grew up, and evolved into travels across the world to capture Orthodox Jews who although live thousands of miles apart, are bound together by history, tradition and a set  of values that serve as the cornerstone of the lives of many who live in today’s society.” Konowiecki has exhibited and completed commissions across the United States and Europe.

Swiss-Italian photographer Claudio Rasano was born in 1970, Basel, Switzerland. The portrait, which is part of the series Similar Uniforms We Refuse to Compare was taken in February 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa and focuses on issues of preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms. The photograph was shot in daylight, outdoors and in front of a plain white paper background. The sitter for this particular pigment print is eighteen year old Katlehong Matsenen. Rasano explains: Children themselves have been known to rebel against uniforms, especially as they approach the awkward age characterised by the need to fit in and the desire to stand out, all at the same time. Some experts have also spoken against school uniforms on the grounds that they suppress individuality and diversity? Rasano has exhibited at the 2014 Solo Exhibition oslo8 contemporary photography 2015 Lens Culture Exposure Awards, Photo London; Museum of African Design, Johannesburg 2015; 2015 Portrait Salon, Bohai Galerie, Hannover, Germany and Expo Milano, Milan, Italy among others. Rasanoas awards include the 2016 Shortlist for the Athens Photo Festival; 2015 Bieler Fototage; 2015 Leica Oskar Branack Prize and the Finalist 2015 Photography Masters Cup.

American artist Joni Sternbach was born in the Bronx, NY in 1953. She is a Visiting Artist at Cooper Union School of Art and faculty member at the International Centre of Photography and The Penumbra Foundation in New York, where she teaches wet plate collodion. Sternbach uses early photographic processes to create contemporary landscapes and environmental portraits and her work centres on man’s relationship to water. Her long-term projects involve the pursuit and understanding of the Western landscape and the series Surfland, which features large-format tintype portraits of surfers. 16.02.20 #1 Thea+Maxwell  (Thea Adler and Maxwell Schultz) was taken in February 2016 at Davenport Landing, Santa Cruz, California, USA. Says Sternbach: “This is the first image I made in February when I was invited to give a talk and book signing in Santa Cruz, CA. My hosts and I planned a shoot prior to the event and they arranged for several local surfers to have their portraits taken. Maxwell was the first to arrive and he brought along his lovely girlfriend, Thea. For me, this photograph represents many of the challenging aspects of creating a portrait.  I was in an entirely new location and faced with people I’d never met before. In this spectacular environment, I aimed to create a dynamic complexity within the picture that was both unique to that person and also understandable to others. 

As well as the three prize-winners, the exhibition will feature the John Kobal New Work Award. For the fifth consecutive year, this will be awarded to a photographer whose work has been selected for the exhibition. The winning photographer will receive a cash prize of £4,000 to include undertaking a commission from the Gallery to photograph a sitter connected with the UK film industry. For the first time, the prize will be awarded to a photographer under the age of thirty-five. Previously it was awarded to a photographer under the age of thirty. 

The competition was judged from original prints by Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery; Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery; Carole Sandrin, Curator, Musée de l’Elye, Lausanne; Christiane Monarchi, Editor Photomonitor; Nadav Kander, Photographer and Tim Eyles, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing LLP. 

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: In an exhibition remarkable for its range of subjects and styles, the quality of this year’s shortlisted works reflects the outstanding level at which photographers across the world are working today.

Tim Eyles, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing LLP, says: One of the great joys and honours of being a member of the judging panel for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is the opportunity to catch an intimate glimpse into the lives of people from around the world. Each portrait tells a different, unique story, and builds a genuine connection between the viewer, the subject and, the photographer. Sharing those stories with the other judges during the selection process is truly an educational and inspirational experience. Taylor Wessing encourage talent to flourish, and people to achieve their ambitions, and we hope that our support of this prize, now in its ninth year, continues to allow this wonderful creativity in our society to thrive.

The prizes for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 and the winner of the fifth John Kobal New Work Award will be announced on Tuesday 15 November 2016 at 19.00.

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