Every year I make a point of visiting the NPG for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait prize exhibition, which showcases notable examples of portrait photography, mainly from European and North American artists. The awards dished out to the panel's chosen few portraits are often interesting but irrelevant to the enjoyment of the material, because generally the standards are high (6000 entries are whittled down to an exhibition of 60) and everything is worth taking a closer look. It has the benefit of being accessible in multiple senses of the word: the gallery is right in the centre of the West End, the works chosen generally avoid the worst excesses of pretentious flummery, and the entrance fee is only £2.
First prize in the 2011 awards went to David Chancellor's striking image of a 14-year-old girl riding a horse with a dead buck slung over the saddle, on her way back from a paid hunting expedition with her family in South Africa. It sounds too good to be true, but the girl's surname was Slaughter. Perhaps this conforms to the award's expectations of quality: after all, Simon Bainbridge, editor of the British Journal of Photography, has pointed out in that magazine's November 2010 issue that the award is 'derided by many for its perceived preference for po-faced artiness and its obsession with images of sullen teenagers'. But he also agrees that 'the prize provides a unique barometer of contemporary portraiture and our changing attitudes towards representation'. And the Slaughter image ('Huntress with buck') definitely possesses a painterly command of light and offers a glimpse of a serene and proud moment for a young girl, which, to my mind at least, contrasts jarringly with the limp form of the expired prey.
|© David Chancellor / NPG|
I also appreciated the third prize winner,