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November 11 2011

The month in photography

Audio slideshow: Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – featuring Walker Evans, Terry Richardson, Bruce Davidson and Diane Arbus

November 09 2011

Taylor Wessing portrait prize: another animal, another girl with red hair

Was Jooney Woodward's shot of a red-head holding a guinea pig really the best of the 6,000 entries? And what makes her think it's an 'unsettling' work?

Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize – in pictures

Click on the image to see it in full

Last year, the Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize shortlist courted considerable controversy by including Panayiotis Lamprou's explicit photograph, Portrait of My British Wife. In the end, though, Lamprou's intimate image came second to David Chancellor's more stately portrait, Huntress With Buck: a deftly composed image of a flame-haired teenage girl, aptly named Josie Slaughter, on a horse with a dead deer draped over the steed's neck. As portraits go, it managed to be traditional and dramatic, but I would have much preferred to see Jeffrey Stockbridge's more edgy portrait, Tic Tac and Tootsie, winning.

This year, though, the shortlist provided no controversy and little drama. It has just been won by Jooney Woodward for Harriet and Gentleman Jack, a portrait of a another flame-haired girl who is cradling a guinea pig. (At this rate, next year they will be inundated with portraits of red-haired teenage girls with animals.) Woodward describes her portrait as "unsettling". Well, it's a nice pic: the girl's hair and the guinea pig's fur complement each other nicely. And there's a scratch on Harriet's hand that suggests Jack may be no gentleman. But "unsettling" it isn't. The bigger question is: was this really the best of the bunch – a total of 6,000 entries by over 2,500 photographers?

I must say, the same question entered my head when I initially saw the shortlist back in early September. I could see the craft of Jasper Clarke's beautifully understated portrait of Wen, an artist in her studio; and the edginess of Jill Wooster's Of Lili, which stood apart with its raw, almost aggressive, energy. The rest, though, were driven by good intentions – Andie by David Knight, Christina and Mark, 14 Months by Dona Schwartz – but good intentions do not necessarily make for good photographs.

I was not the only one disappointed at the dullness of the selection. Over at the National Journal of Photography, a blog on the shortlist drew an avalanche of negative comments, ranging from "Is it me? Am I missing something?" through "I am speechless, is this really the best of the best?" to "Yawn yawn".

For once, I found myself in some agreement with the online naysayers. Where's the excitement, the sense of mystery, not to say confusion, a great photographic portrait should inspire in the viewer? With one exception, Jill Wooster, it was safe, undemanding work, technically brilliant but lacking any glimmer of emotional power. If the judges concurred with Woodward's "unsettling" verdict, they really do need to get out more. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 08 2011

Taylor Wessing winner finds glory with a guinea pig

Winner Jooney Woodward shot winning photographic portrait at Royal Welsh Show in Powys

It was not the most immediately promising place to take such a striking photograph – the guinea pig judging area of the Royal Welsh Show – but it proved fruitful for Jooney Woodward who has been named winner of the Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize.

Woodward won £12,000 for her portrait of 13-year-old Harriet Power, cradling her guinea pig Gentleman Jack, named after the Jack Daniel's whiskey box in which he was given to her.

More than 6,000 portraits were submitted by 2,506 photographers from around the world for the prize organised by the National Portrait Gallery. Sandy Nairne, the gallery's director, called the winning work "a brilliant, empathetic study of a young woman".

Tim Eyles, managing partner of the law firm Taylor Wessing, sponsoring the prize for the fourth year, also offered congratulations. "This year's images collectively convey a realism and depth of vision that makes them both relevant and easy to relate to," he said.

Woodward's photo could be seen as unusual as she used actual film. Before she knew of her win, she said: "I prefer the quality and depth you get from using film; unfortunately it's a dying art."

The freelance photographer, 32, used a Mamiya RZ medium format camera. "I don't mess around with Photoshop so what you see is what you get. Enhanced images can portray a false sense of reality, whereas my work celebrates the people and places as they appear every day," she said.

Woodward found her sitter while she was scouting for subjects at the big agricultural show held at Builth Wells, Powys.

At Tuesday night's London ceremony, American photographer Jill Wooster won the £2,500 second prize, and her compatriot Dona Schwartz won third.

An exhibition of 60 portraits will run at the gallery from 10 November until 12 February. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2011 – in pictures

See work by photographers who entered the prestigious Taylor Wessing photographic prize, which goes on show at the National Portrait Gallery on 10 November 2011

January 07 2011

December 10 2010

The month in photography

Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – including works by William Eggleston, Gerda Taro, Bill Brandt, W Eugene Smith and Richard Avedon

November 10 2010

Huntress catches portrait prize

David Chancellor's photo of 14-year-old Josie Slaughter on a horse carrying a dead buck beat 6,000 submissions to win

An arresting image of a teenage girl on horseback with her trophy of a hunted dead buck was last night named winner of a major photographic portrait prize.

The photographer David Chancellor was given this year's Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in London forhis submission, Huntress with Buck.

The image shows 14-year-old Josie Slaughter from Alabama on her first hunting trip to South Africa. Against a stunning background and sky, she looks impassively in to the camera, holding the dead animal's antlers up to prevent it flopping lifelessly over the horse's neck.

Chancellor said the location and light were key to the image's power. "Josie had hunted her buck earlier in the day and was returning to camp," he said. "As we arrived, the sun set below the cloud cover and I had almost unreal light for around a minute.

"The contrast between the peace and tranquillity of the location plus Josie's ethereal beauty and the dead buck was what I wanted to explore. Here was a vulnerability and yet also a strength."

Chancellor, who wins £12,000, took the photograph – shooting Kodak 160VC 120 film on a Mamiya 7 II camera – as part of a bigger project documenting hunters and the hunted.

He said he wanted "to explore the intricate and complex relationship between man and animals and how both struggle to adapt to their changing environment."

Chancellor, who divides his time between London and Cape Town, said he tried to remain objective about the subject matter: "The aim is always to be detached. In reality that's rarely possible, but I do hope I can observe without an agenda and without the necessity to shout."

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery and chairman of the judges, called Chancellor's image "a powerful and beautiful portrait, a worthy winner amidst a strong international submission".

Second prize went to Panayiotis Lamprou for Portrait of my British wife and third to Jeffrey Stockbridge for Tic Tac and Tootsie.

The portraits form part of an exhibition – with 60 portraits whittled down from nearly 6,000 submissions – that runs at the NPG from tomorrow until 20 February and then at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens from 16 April until 26 June. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 01 2010

The month in photography

William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Tim Hetherington feature in our guide to the best new book releases and shows across the country this month

September 17 2010

Power of an intimate portrait

Lamprou's Portrait of My British Wife – on the shortlist for this year's Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize – is a private moment made public. But when does art become voyeurism?

Warning: clicking on the picture reveals the full image, which is explicit and may offend

Photographers have taken explicit photographs since the invention of the form. It is still a surprise, though, to see Panayiotis Lamprou's image, Portrait of My British Wife, on the shortlist of this year's Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize. It is, as the Guardian's arts correspondent, Mark Brown, put it (perhaps understating the case somewhat), "arresting because of its intimacy". It begs the vexed question, when does art become voyeurism or, indeed, pornography?

Lamprou photographed his wife sitting outside their summerhouse on the Aegean island of Schinousa. She has just finished eating an omelette and the dirty pan sits on table at her elbow. She is staring at the camera with a gaze that is difficult to read, wearing a short dress – or long T-shirt – and nothing underneath. Her legs are apart and her vagina is visible beneath the skirt. There is something both coy and provocative about the portrait, which, according to the photographer, was not originally intended for public display. (What changed his – and her – mind?) It will be interesting to see how the National Portrait Gallery displays the image when they exhibit it in a show of 60 of the submitted portraits in November.

Undoubtedly many visitors to the gallery will find the image shocking, even offensive. Ironically, its tone of languor and intimacy sets it apart from the other three shortlisted portraits, all of which are provocative in different ways. Indeed, both Jeffrey Stockbridge's portrait of Tic Tac and Tootsie, twin sisters who have turned to prostitution on the streets of Philadelphia to fund their drug addictions, and Abbie Trayley-Smith's portrait of a young girl at a charity for obese children, could be considered more voyeuristic and exploitative.

Lamprou's portrait, though, cannot use the defence of social documentary or reportage. It is a private, intimate moment made public and, however consensual the contract between photographer and subject – and husband and wife - much of its arresting power lies in this uneasy dynamic. Do we, as viewers of what was originally an intensely private exchange, become voyeurs?

Lamprou's intimately explicit portrait is a very different kind of photograph than, say, the formally driven Teutonic female nudes of Helmet Newton, the hardcore imagery of Robert Mapplethorpe or the garish art-porn of Araki. Neither does it fit into the fashion-porn genre indulged in by the likes of Terry Richardson. Again, it is the intimacy of the setting – and the fracturing of that intimacy – that sets it apart and may even, for some viewers, make it even more problematic.

In both its explicitness and its blurring of the boundary between the private and the public, Lamprou's portrait calls to mind the taboo-breaking work of the young American photographer, Leigh Ledare. His book, Pretend You're Actually Alive, is a visual and written portrait of his mother, an erstwhile exotic dancer, who is both a narcissist and an exhibitionist. Over the years, he has photographed her in various explicit poses, both alone and with a succession of younger lovers, and the titles alone - Mom Spread With Lamp (2000) – give some indication of the content.

When Nan Goldin included Ledare's work in her selection for the Rencontres d'Arles Festival, last year, it caused considerable debate among visitors, many of whom found it either offensive or disturbing. (Ledare, for the record, is a charming, well-balanced individual, and the book does work, in an albeit disturbing way, as a fractured chronicle of a thankfully singular strain family dysfunction.) It does beg the – now quaintly old-fashioned – question, are some things better left to the imagination than the camera? Or, more pertinently, the gallery wall?

Interestingly, too, it is nearly always women who are the object of the camera's gaze in these provocative photographs. (Mapplethorpe, a gay man, and Richardson, a self-confessed exhibitionist, both turned the camera on themselves, but they are the exceptions.) Would, one wonders, a full-frontal photograph of a relaxed, sun-dappled Lamprou taken by his wife be as arresting or provocative?

What strikes me most about Lamprou's portrait – apart, of course, from its explicitness – is its apparent casualness. It has none of the heightened formal power of David Chancellor's portrait of a 14-year-old girl astride her horse with a dead impala. Instead, it looks, at first glance, like a holiday snap – but that, too, is part of its odd, and confusing, power. The dirty pan, the cluttered table, and the blurred chair in the foreground are all familiar signifiers of that certain feeling of relaxed torpor that descends on us when we settle in to a holiday. It's just that the eye is drawn elsewhere; we are given licence to look, to linger, to transgress the boundary between the accepted and the forbidden – at a cost, perhaps, to all of us, the photographer, the subject and the viewer … and to our ever-shrinking imaginations.

Now see this

I wrote about The Election Project by British photographer, Simon Roberts, back in Apri, when he was preparing to set off around Britain in his motor home to capture the country in the grip of election fever. The intriguing results – alongside all 1,696 election-based photographs posted on his website by the general public – are currently being exhibited at Portcullis House, Westminster, SW1. This weekend – 18-19 September – it is open to the public, and you can visit by appointment over the next few weeks. Info at © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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