White borders and brown wooden frames encase the unique, often conceptual photographic portraits of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery in Charing Cross.
The photographs exhibit themes including gender identity, unease, class, fortune, race, sexual orientation, hardships, and mental disorders, among others.
Some of the photographs were unusual and distinctive, whereas others’ style resembled that of paintings you might find in the National Gallery around the corner.
The portraits reflected many different cultures, and at times, I was stretched from my comfort zone to see the deeper significance of cultures I have not experienced first hand, such as Hinduism.
Several photographs resonated with me and many had a deeper meaning than first met the eye. I found myself further engaged with the photographs when I read the caption provided by the photographer.
An example of this was a photograph of an African-American cowboy on a horse in the snow. At first, I just thought it was a beautifully captured image. With strong lighting and a sharp focus, the cowboy is firmly holding on to the horse that is bucking. Though this would be a quick moment, it seems frozen in time.
This photograph was part of a larger series titled “Delta Hill Riders” that told the story of an African-American cowboy community. The caption explains that this community is “vastly underrepresented in popular accounts” such as the lack of recognition that following the American Civil War. It said: “one in four cowboys were African-Americans.”
As a photographer and someone who enjoys finding new ways to see the world, this exhibit, with photographs such as those of the “Delta Hill Riders” and another with a collection of girls wearing hijabs showing only their eyes, inspired and challenged me.
The first and second place photographs, however, didn’t really speak to me. They were good quality and had some interesting aspects to them such as lighting, detail and distinctive subject matter, but simply did not stick with me or strike me as incredible.
The first prize portrait, among others, challenged me by showing the sometimes ugly reality of the world we live in.
The third-place photograph, however, was very different. It was colorful and lively, bringing to mind summer at the Jersey shore. It very much demonstrated a lifestyle, picturing a vintage turquoise car, windows rolled down, beach umbrellas and chairs on top of the car, with happy people inside. The photograph was far from what I envision when I think of the typical portrait, making it stand out.
At the affordable entry price of £6, and with many great photographs, this exhibit is definitely worth seeing.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 exhibition is open until Feb. 16, 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery. For information, visit the website here.