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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2015


National Portrait Gallery



Director Nicholas Cullinan


National Portrait Gallery

12 November 2015 – 21 February 2016



The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2015 embraces a wide international appeal and is the most anticipated photographic event in the year. The stats speak for themselves: 4,909 photographs, spanning 70 countries with 1,201 artists’ submissions. Legitimising multiple view-points, it is a dazzling response to ‘human, creative expression’ encouraging inter-textual conversations.

‘Tom’ the poster-boy looks down, veins pumped, as he waits to audition for Ballet Rambert, the image of youthful perfection. ‘The Obamas’ a commission for People Magazine by Gillan Laub, 2014, have their hands on hips in contrived informality, yet Michelle Obama looks directly at us as her husband’s attention is drawn elsewhere. Polish docker Keflavik’s closed eyes, 2014, hint at spent days. While ‘Hugette and Brigette, Ghazir Lebanon’ 2014 by Rania Matar communicate tenderness and love through a matrix of hands.   

Conversations cross political and cultural divides. Justin Sutcliffe’s frank portrayal of Afghanistan’s first woman police chief, in its uncompromising composition, links to ‘Constable Robling and Fintan,’ part of a project to mark the centenary of the first British woman to be given the power of arrest. Jason Larkin’s literal narrative ‘7hrs and 30minutes’ is the time spent by homeless subject Sbusio under the shadow of traffic lights as he waits for food. ‘My Muse Andre’ 2015 in soft pastels show the intimacy between photographer Jouk Oosterhof and his subject. And Justin Sutcliffe’s second offering ‘The Shoe-keeper, Blue Mosque’ picks out the blue cubby holes and his blue clothes; he himself is shoeless.

Other conversations evoke artists. ‘Luke, Gaskell’s of Wigan’ 2014, by Guardian photographer Sarah Lee, references Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ from a series recording Friday Night Takeout Habits. Details are exquisite from the lash of rain, the interior light to Luke’s profile figure.

Caravaggio inspired Anoush Abrar’s ‘Hector’ 2015 where a fleshily chubby child appears suspended in darkness linking to Felix Friedmann’s ‘Vivian’ - ’a cherub floating between stars of half-finished dishes.’ Tom Oldman’s ‘Gilbert and George’ 2015 commissioned by Time Out, NY, shows the artists from behind in playful reference to living sculptures.


by Anoush Abrar, 2014 
© Anoush Abrar


A striking image for sheer pleasure and compositional detail is Mark Chivers’ ‘Happy Pupil of Budaku’ 2014.The balance between image and effect is wonderful: a smiling boy looks out from a classroom, looked at by other smiling boys. They are framed by a wash of colour in a perfect moment of figurative and literal illumination. The Taylor Wessing Photographic exhibition is a competition and whatever your opinion as to the outcome – I overheard one photographer say ‘it is such a stab in the dark when you enter anything’ – its open policy has enduring appeal.



The John Kobal Award looks to the future and is given to a photographer under the age of 30. This was Tereza Cervenova for the evocative ‘Ynglid’ 2014, a beautifully serene Pre-Raphaelite study. 4th prize went to Ivor Prickett’s intimate portrait of ‘Amira and Her Children’ taken at the Baharka Refugee Camp 2014; 3rd prize to the arresting ‘Nyaneth’ by Peter Zelewski; 2nd to Anoush Abrar for ‘Hector’; and 1st prize to David Stewart for ‘Five Girls’ 2014, a mid to low composition, hinting at da Vinci’s ‘The last supper.’


Amira and her Children
by Ivor Prickett, 2014 
© Ivor Prickett/UNHCR/Panos Pictures


The inclusion of an ‘In Focus’ artist to the competition is new. Pieter Hugo’s ‘1994’ series marks the year of democratic free elections in South Africa and the Rwandan Genocide. ‘Portrait # 1’ shows a young black boy on the ground surrounded by discarded, over-ripe petals. ‘Portrait # 2’ shows a garlanded, fair-haired child, standing insouciantly against natural foliage. They are breath-taking in size and scope.

The photograph captures an image for eternity and encapsulates the moment of creation itself. This makes it unique. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2015 is celebratory, diverse and provocative. What a series of beginnings are here for everyone to participate in and enjoy!




National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place
Daily 10.00 – 18.00
Thursdays and Fridays until 21.00.

Last admission to the exhibition is one hour before the Gallery closes.
Exiting commences ten minutes before the closing time.
Tickets £4

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