Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize @ the National Portrait Gallery

Tic Tac and Tootsie (twin sisters Carrol and Shelly McKean) by Jeffrey Stockbridge © Jeffrey Stockbridge [3rd Prize]

I love photography exhibitions. I’ve been to see the Jim Goldberg and Sally Mann exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery and I try to see the Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery and the Wildlife Photographer Prize at the Natural History Museum every year.  

I think I get more out of photography than I do from art. It might be because I know sod all about art, but I find photography more compelling and real. I love the techniques – the blurs and the movement, the focus and what that tells you – the fact that a close up shot of someone’s face can be incredibly moving. I love the light and the colours. But more than anything I love the stories – the fact that a good photo can tell you everything about someone, that a good photo means that the photographer understands its subject and is letting you in to this life for just a split second. What happens before and after that moment is for your imagination.

Huntress with Buck from the series ‘Hunters’ by David Chancellor © David Chancellor [1st Prize]

So we went along to the National Portrait Gallery last night for the Thursday late. On Thursdays and Fridays, the NPG is open until 9pm and you can wander round the gallery or check out the exhibitions. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is just £2 admission and really worth it. The photos are pretty breathtaking, some shocking (yes I’m talking to you Second Prize), some sad. The one at the top is of two drug-addicted prostitute sisters -desperate and tragic but almost monkey-like, comical? There’s one of a Middle Eastern woman Wafa who has the same aloofness and strength as the Mona Lisa. There’s photos of war, prison, celebrities, nudity, families, poverty, sex, that make you think about other countries, other issues and other lives. The photo above is incredibly beautiful like an oil painting – of a young girl game hunting in South Africa, but I think I liked other ones too – the scary scary prisoners in Burundi, the woman between the trains in Bangladesh, the close up photo of a student taken by his teacher, the Ugandan teacher marking homework which had the same light and colour as the old Italian masters. And the Second Prize (which they sent me but which I won’t post because I would ruin the surprise)? Well, I’m still trying to figure out what I think about it but it certainly made me think.

As you know, I love late night exhibitions – it’s so nice to have a drink and see some cultural stuff rather than always heading to the pub. The NPG isn’t quite up there with the fantastic V&A lates but its getting there – good DJ with nice music, a bar which is good because cultural appreciation is certainly enhanced by the provision of booze, but £6 for a tiny prosecco in a plastic glass and £4 for a plastic glass of yukky plonk is not so good. Also would be nice for places to sit and relax. But they’ll get there. If you want to do something different after work tonight then I’d definitely recommend it – a quick drink, an hour round the exhibition, some beard-stroking analysis of the photos, and then dinner at Dishoom, Wahaca or in Chinatown

All photos courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2010 runs to 20 February 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The gallery is free but the exhibition is £2 (barrrrgain). The exhibition and gallery are open until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays.

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