Photographs of a woman holding her baby, two shoppers, a drum majorette, and a child from a remote village in Sierra Leone have all been shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize this year. The prize winners will be announced at an award ceremony at the NPG on 16 October, with the overall winner receiving £15,000 and other cash prizes awarded to the shortlisted photographers at the judges’ discretion.
Two of the images were shot in London, with Max Barstow behind a striking photograph of two women in a busy shopping street in the city centre. The image comes from his series Londoners and in it, he says, his aim has been to “make unposed portraits with the intensity of images made by great studio photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn”.
“When people think of Victorian photography, they sometimes think of stiff, fusty portraits of women in crinoline dresses, and men in bowler hats,” says Phillip Prodger, head of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. “Victorian Giants is anything but. Here visitors can see the birth of an idea – raw, edgy, experimental – the Victorian avant-garde, not just in photography, but in art writ large. The works of Cameron, Carroll, Hawarden and Rejlander forever changed thinking about photography and its expressive power. These are pictures that inspire and delight. And this is a show that lays bare the unrivalled creative energy, and optimism, that came with the birth of new ways of seeing.”
This fascination with the familiar isn’t a new phenomenon, says Phillip Prodger, head of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery and a former judge of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. “We live in a world of the free exchange of imagery and social media and perhaps the photographs that once were considered more private aren’t considered so private anymore. I think people have been making those photographs all along but perhaps not sharing them in that way.”