From early works to later evolutions, a retrospective spanning 40 years of the influential artist’s life oeuvre goes on show at the National Portrait Gallery
London’s National Portrait Gallery is no longer taking a £1m gift from the Sackler Trust, amid growing controversy over the trust’s links to Purdue Pharma – makers of the OyxContin prescription painkiller which has been linked to the opioid crisis.
The £1m gift was to support the gallery’s Inspiring People initiative, a £35.5m project which would see the biggest-ever building development of the gallery since it opened in 1896. The NPG has stated that it has jointly agreed not to proceed with the gift with the Sackler Trust, and has issued two statements.
“The Sackler Trust has supported institutions playing crucial roles in health, education, science and the arts for almost half a century and we were pleased to have the opportunity to offer a new gift to support the National Portrait Gallery,” reads the first statement, from a Sackler Trust spokesperson. “The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission.
When the Portrait Gallery was established in London in the mid-19th century, its role was envisioned “to consist of those persons who are most honourably commemorated in British history”. Opening in an era when photography was still a new and untried technology, the National Portrait Gallery (as it later became known) was intended to be the national repository of the images, chiefly paintings and drawings, of those men and, much later, women who represented what was best among the British hierarchy of achievements, skills and aptitudes. Its function was to hold up a mirror to Britain that reflected its qualities back to those who came to observe them, as object lessons about how to aspire to, or more simply respect, the qualities and moral standing of the great and the good.
This conception of the NPG may still be widespread in the public mind, as even Martin Parr thought his work would be an ill-fit for a contemporary exhibition along these lines. “I never thought of myself as a portrait photographer,” he says, “and when I first met Phillip Prodger [NPG’s former head of photographs], I told him I had only a few celebrity portraits. I just put a lightbox together and sent them to him, though I was quite surprised at what I had.” Prodger, however, had other ideas, seeing in Parr the work of a social observer who could also offer a portrait of a nation at a key point in its history. So it is that the NPG put together Only Human, on show from 07 March to 27 May, bringing together some of Parr’s most famous photographs alongside a number of works never exhibited before.
This month, we present a small selection of work that will be shown at Format festival, which returns to the Quad Arts Centre in Derby, England for its ninth edition this March. Under the theme Forever/Now, our edit of notable projects emphasises the festival’s slant towards ‘crooked’ documentary practices, where a lack of subject or search for the unknown is filled by fiction and interpretation.
London’s National Portrait Gallery has revealed the first images of its proposed new design, part of a £35.5m redevelopment which is the biggest-ever at the building since it opened in 1896, and which would increase its gallery space by 20%.
The design, by Jamie Fobert Architects, proposes adding a new visitor entrance and public forecourt on the building’s north face, in addition to the existing entrance; it would also return the gallery’s East Wing to public use, and add new retail and catering facilities, and a new Learning Centre for visitors. The redevelopment would also see the gallery’s collection – which includes 250,000 photographs – redisplayed and reinterpreted across 40 refurbished galleries.
Alice Mann has won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2018 with a set of four images of South African drum majorettes – the first time the award has gone to a series not a single shot.
Mann’s photographs show five young girls from Cape Town dressed as ‘drummies’ – a popular hobby for children from some of South Africa’s most disadvantaged communities. Mann, who is now based in London but originally from South Africa, spent three months photographing drum majorettes, and says her winning portraits come from a much larger series.
“The images are part of a much larger body of work, which is a combination of a more documentary approach and portraits,” she explains. “These four portraits are some of my favourite images, especially the one of Riley and Wakiesha because they are so charismatic.
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”.
Cindy Sherman’s first UK retrospective goes on show at the National Portrait Gallery, London from 27 June – 15 September, 2019.
Titled Cindy Sherman, the exhibition will feature around 180 works, including the seminal series Untitled Film Stills. Shot from 1977-1980 in New York, the 70-strong series cemented both her reputation and her approach – manipulating her own appearance to explore the complex relationship between facade and reality.
“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.”
“People say that John was brilliant but tricky, but he was only difficult if you were being mediocre,” says Sacha Lehrfreund, John Reardon’s long term partner and one-time colleague. “In a professional capacity he wanted to be excellent. He pushed it beyond a point that was comfortable for lots of people, but he made you better than you might otherwise be.”
“John Reardon was an artist,” says Greg Whitmore, picture editor of The Observer and another former colleague. “You can see it the photographs of Handsworth cricket fans, the Kosovan woman and baby, the portrait of Fergus Henderson…John was one of the greats of his generation.” John Reardon, a celebrated photojournalist who went on to shoot equally celebrated celebrity portraits for The Observer, has died aged 66.