Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Taylor Wessing Prize 2019

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th November, 2019

Non NPG Work - Competition Exhibition – Born DigitalPeople watching is one of my favourite occupations, honed on the terraces of Parisian cafés or the Grand’Place in Brussels. But not everyone appreciates being studied intently, perhaps understandably, which is one reason why photographs have such immense appeal. You can stare at them as hard and as long as you like; what’s more, the image is of a precise moment captured. The very best can linger in one’s mind for decades. So I always look forward to the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. This year’s opened today and runs until 16 February. The competition attracted around 1,600 entries, from 70 countries. Interestingly, the NPG chose as its main publicity shot for the exhibition the photo I liked best, of an Estonian lady of a certain age, in big round spectacles (a la Iris Apfel); the somewhat vacant expression on her face probably reflects the depression to which the sitter is prone; her photographer daughter, Sirli Raitma, suggested doing various pictures of her in different dress in an effort to lift her mood.

However, the winner of the £15,000 first prize was Los Angeles-based Pat Martin, for a series of uncompromising shots of his late and voluminous mother; she looks as if she could be a fairly terrifying figure, though the dog T-shirt she wears in one photograph suggests a certain degree of humour, too. She struggled with addiction throughout her life, putting strains on her relationship with her son, but his taking photos of her helped them to reconnect. As Pat Martin comments, “For most of my life, I misunderstood my mother and witnessed how the world misunderstood her. Photographing her became a way of looking into a mirror and finding details I never noticed.” As an outside observer, one can intuit the pain in that experience, as well as a degree of resolution.

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