Portraits are no longer just visual images of people, often made to be flattering, as they were in those portraits which fill the staircases and state rooms of grand historic country houses. Today, they are realistic, reflecting the lives, the society, the experiences, the triumphs and the difficulties of the people shown. They are a reflection as much on life itself as on individuals.
This is very much reflected in the finalists for the Taylor Wessing Photography Portrait Prize 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery which shows the works of the best new young photographers from across the globe. The photography has to be beautiful and technically excellent of course, but it also needs to tell a story.
Third prize went to Garrod Kirkwood for his photograph of the happy, carefree Hubbick family setting off on holiday in their old Cortina, while Second prize went to Enda Bowe for her photograph of a pensive and slightly troubled 18-year old Neil growing up in Belfast where there are still political tensions.
First prize went to Pat Martin for her honest and open photographs of her mother Gail living with a serious medical condition, part of a series of photographs which Martin says brought mother and daughter closer together.
Other photographs include Jenny Lewis’s portrait of Rosy and her daughter Herb, Rosie having been diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer during her pregnancy, Sirli Raitma’s portraits of her mother Eha struggling with depression, Vikram Kushwah’s images of schoolchildren in rural India, Jack Taylor Gotch’s photograph of a skinhead who is a shadow in the urban environment and photographs by Rory Doyle of an almost unknown African-American community of cowboys and Marcin T Joefiak double image of the infamous Ma Anand Sheela representing the differences between her own perception of her life and how others saw her.
Last was a focus on work by the acclaimed photographer Ethan James Green whose work seeks to redefine modern ideas of identity and beauty, here showing portraits of a wide variety of modern young couples in love.
As with good portraits, these images engage and draw in the viewer to explore the stories behind the images, while enjoying their beauty.