The 2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery presents a fascinating collection of portraits from around the world with a mix of studio and street photography capturing spontaneous and carefully crafted pictures.

I’m gradually getting to understand photography.  As an artist I’m more familiar with the process of ‘eyeballing’ (as David Hockney described it) with a pencil, brush or bit of paper in my hand, rather than peering through a lens. However, when you visit a show like the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize you come away with a feeling of huge admiration for the work of the photographers who have been fortunate enough to be selected for this prestigious prize.

I think the universal element to the success of these portraits is the ability to focus on that gaze, the way a subject will look directly at the photographer and allow something very exclusive and internal to be captured.  It’s probably a mixture of trust and good fortune. The winning pictures came from a series of photographs of ‘Drummies‘, young girls in Cape Town, South Africa, who clearly felt at ease with Alice Mann and allowed her to take informal photographs of them dressed in their wonderful majorette outfits in spaces which are familiar to them.


I’m always drawn to curious portraits and a couple of them stood out.  I liked Eddie Mulholland‘s portrait of Robin Parsons as he transforms himself into Michael Jackson for a tribute act.  And I liked Toby Coulson’s portrait of Joan Jonas – you can sort of see the woman but she’s behind a curious mask and the effect is very beguiling.



I was also very struck by Alice Zoo’s portrait of Woman in a Blue Cap. The subject is close to my heart, it’s of one of those intrepid women who brave the freezing waters of the Women’s Pond at Hampstead and I have enormous respect for them. (I’m a fair weather swimmer so I won’t be back in the pond until the warm days of next year’s early summer.)

And I did like the very cool photograph by Max Barstow from his Londoners series – this was joint second prize winner – and captured two very chic women in Regent Street who agreed to pause from their purposeful shopping just long enough to be perfectly framed.


The show is on at the National Portrait Gallery until 27th January 2019.


Above: Charlotte, a member of the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society being photography by Guy Bell next to a portrait of her taken by Alejandra Carles-Tolra.

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