The results of the 2023 Taylor Wessing Portrait Photo Prize have been announced! Congratulations to Alexandre Silberman who has won first prize for his portrait, Diena. Jessica Miller spoke to the winner and shortlisted photographers to find out more about their photos.
The prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Photo Prize competition showcases talented amateur and young photographers as well as established professionals. The diverse range of images often reveal inspiring and fascinating stories.
From the 5020 submissions entered by 1785 photographers from 59 countries, five photographers were shortlisted. Alexandre Silberman has come out on top, with Gilleam Trapenberg coming second, and Jake Green and Carl Francois van der Linde taking a joint third prize; presenting the outstanding quality of images.
In addition to the first, second and third prizes, the competition ran the Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission for the first time, which provides the winning photographer the support to create a portrait, which will become part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. The £8,000 commission has been won by Serena Brown for her portrait me nana fie, which depicts her younger sister visiting her family home in Accra, Ghana.
58 photographs from 51 photographers will be displayed at the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2023 exhibition in London which, for the first time in three years, runs at the National Portrait Gallery from 9th November 2023 until 25th February 2024. It features work by Jenny Lewis, Heather Agyepong, a portrait of actor Ncuti Gatwa by Jonangelo Molinari and the 2023 In Focus photographer, Hassan Hajjaj.
The photographs have been selected for display by a panel of judges including National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Dr Nicholas Cullinan; Senior Curator at The Photographer’s Gallery, Karen McQuaid; writer and photographer, Caleb Azumah Nelson; artist, Campbell Addy; and the National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator of Photography, Sabina Jaskot-Gill.
Alongside the exhibition, the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2023 catalogue includes interviews with all prize-winning photographers, alongside extended captions for each exhibited work and insights from the judges.
About the images Dr. Nicholas Cullinan said, “Congratulations to the prize winners and all the shortlisted photographers who will be on display as part of the exhibition this year. The Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize always represents the very best of contemporary photographic talent, showcasing the array of unique perspectives and styles at work in the discipline today. It’s wonderful to see the Prize and exhibition return to the National Portrait Gallery after three years, and to share these fantastic portraits with our visitors.”
Read on to learn more about this year’s images, and tips for entering next year’s competition.
Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2023 winner
Diena, Alexandre Silberman
From a long-term series of portraits entitled NATURE, Diena was photographed in the Parc de La Courneuve, one of the largest artificial parks in Europe. An enclosed green space in a concrete forest, at the heart of an area in great economic and social difficulty, it is a veritable lung for the inhabitants.
“Diena was sitting here, on a late summer afternoon, with a suitcase surprisingly embellished with a bouquet of dried flowers. She was wearing a long white veil that reflected the sun spectacularly. I saw her in the distance and decided to ask her to paint her portrait. I used 2 rolls [of film], but in the end it was the last two shots, taken in close-up, disregarding the elements around her and concentrating on her face alone, that made it into the series.”
This is Alexandre’s second time entering the competition, when asked about being shortlisted he told me, “It’s obviously a source of great pride. It’s also an opportunity for me to return to London, where I have fond memories of shooting. The NPG is an iconic place, and I think all the artists on show benefit from its influence. My first long-term photo series was about the museums of Paris and their staging of beauty. Here, we’ll be right in the heart of it too.”
When entering the competition Alexandre recommends remembering that judging is subjective, and what the judges might be looking for is likely to change from year to year. “I don’t think the portraits I sent in when I first entered were any less good than Diena’s. But they didn’t catch the eye of the jury, that’s just the way it is.
On the other hand, once the first round is completed, I can only advise you to make sure your print is as good as possible. I normally print myself, but for this one I wanted a spectacular print on high-quality paper. So I went to a professional printer – Romain Hemon, from the Diamantino laboratory – who was able to interpret the photo in a more radical way than my original prints, by accentuating the contrasts in particular. It’s wrong to think that photography is a solitary art; the way other people look at your own work is often a big plus.”
The judges felt this portrait encompassed a compelling blend of the traditional and the contemporary. With echoes of art historical depictions of a Madonna, the monochrome palette lends a timeless, oneiric quality to the work. However, details within the image, such as the sitter’s nose ring, floral blouse and headphones, feel fresh and current and bring the portrait firmly into the present.
Alexandre Silberman’s top tip for portrait photography:
- Assume your role as photographer, be visible, be close. A good portrait should have a direct impact and not require too much reading.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission winner
me nana fie, Serena Brown
Serena is a British photographer and her work often focuses on issues affecting working class youth around the UK. Serena has won the brand new commission prize as a result of entering the competition for the first time. Her image me nana fie was taken on a trip with her sister to their grandma’s home in Ghana last year.
“My sister had never been and it was our first experience of Accra together. This image features Chloe and Kojo after a day of games and laughter. It felt really special to be able to document all the time we spent reconnecting with friends, family and passers by in my Grandma’s front yard. I hope to continue the series and create a body of work that celebrates community and explores the idea of home.”
The judges enjoyed the natural and spontaneous feel of this portrait. The sitters are casually posed, but the portrait captures their evocative expressions and emanates a sense of warmth and affection
With the Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission, Serena will be able to create a new portrait that will become part of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. “It feels so special to have this opportunity, I wouldn’t ever have imagined that I’d have the chance to make such an important portrait, to be placed in the permanent collection. She recommends to anyone reading to take the leap and enter. “I can remember coming to see the exhibition on many school trips, so to be here alongside so many talented photographers is amazing. I’ve definitely talked myself out of it so many times but it’s a great opportunity for photographers of all experience levels.”
Sabrina’s top tip for portrait photography:
- Have good chat!
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023: Second prize
Kisha and LaDarayon, Gilleam Trapenberg
Gilleam’s work explores contradictions and stereotypes of the social landscape of the Caribbean, focusing on vistas beyond tourist tropes to explore a more nuanced and multifaceted understanding of daily life on the islands. From the series Currents, his photograph depicts Kisha and her 14 year old son, LaDarayon.
“I’ve known Kisha since 2018 when I photographed her for the first time on the island of Saint Martin. She was standing outside in front of her house and I happened to drive by. I immediately parked my car on the curb and asked if I could take a portrait of her. She was wearing this light blue t shirt that almost blended in with the sky and ocean in front of her house. Every year after that when I would be back on Saint Martin I would pass by Kisha to photograph her. It became something very natural.”
The photograph was taken by the Dutch photographer in April of this year. “I texted her that I was back on the island and that I wanted to photograph her again, and she asked if I could photograph her and her sons. I loved the idea as I photographed her with her sons before in 2019. Generally I don’t photograph someone or a group of people for so long, but with Kisha and her family that’s different. It’s truly an honor to be shortlisted for such a prestigious prize, let alone the fact that the work will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s still quite surreal.”
If you have a portfolio or a series, Gilleam’s advice when entering the competition would be to choose the photo that could summarise your project in one image.
Gilleam’s top tip for portrait photography.
- A portrait is a collaboration between the sitter and the photographer. It’s important to know how different types of camera can influence how someone feels in front of your lens. A dslr with a big telephoto lens would evoke an entirely different emotion and portrait than an analog snapshot camera.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023: Third Prize
Chotu Lal Upside-down, Carl Francois van der Linde
The photo Chotu Lal Upside-down is from the series Our Leader. In the photo is Arjun Raj but goes by his ring name Chotu Lal, a.k.a the Dragon, which was given to him by The Great Khali who is the founder of the CWE Wrestling Academy. The photograph was captured in Jalandhar during Van Der Linde’s exploration of the world of Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE). The portrait finds Chotu Lal in the midst of building his personal wrestling brand; CWE students often stage humiliation efforts as part of their promotion, recording them and adding the content to social media.
“Chotu Lal is a 16 year old aspiring wrestler from Bihar state in North east India. He is smaller in stature and uses it as a comedic act or edge to his wrestling persona. I saw a bunch of the wrestlers creating a promotional video, suspending Chotu-lal by his feet and I thought this would make a great photo to showcase the obscurity of their kayfabe tactics and the extent they would go to portray farce humiliation tactics for self-promotion.”
Carl speaks about his shortlisted photograph with immense gratitude, he told me, “I feel privileged to even be considered amongst the top portrait photographers exhibiting at the National Portrait gallery this year, let alone being included in the shortlist. Being recognised for personal work is always highly appreciated, since the only input and vision for a project comes from the photographer. The external validation is valuable to silence the voice in your head that says: “What the hell are you doing in rural India photographing these wrestlers, who in their right mind would want to see these guys?””
For newcomers to the competition, he suggests creating as much personal work as possible first, “and enter your best images without overthinking it. Do the work and put it out there, even if you lose money and never see any financial compensation. Buy the ticket, contact the communities, travel to far-out, off-beat places, live with the subjects and hurt, love and learn from it. My friend and mentor once told me that people judge photographers first and foremost by their personal work, that advice has stuck with me ever since.”
Carl’s top tip for portrait photography:
- No smiling 🙂
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023: Third prize
Shaun Ryder, Jake Green
Jake is a British, London-based documentary photographer who creates observational images of people and place. He has photographed the likes of actor Daniel Kaluya and singer Dua Lipa. His intriguing portrait of the lead singer from the Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder, was taken in Manchester when working on a Channel 4 commission. “At the end of the session I asked Shaun if we could take some extra portraits – I had a shot in mind that was more subtle and little off set. Shaun had the idea to vape and in a moment of spontaneity the vapour completely obscured his face. The portrait is testimony to Shaun and his amazing energy.”
Having been entering the Portrait Prize for over 20 years, Jake has some direct advice: “don’t over think it – pick out the portraits that mean something to you and if they get selected then great – if they don’t then just keep trying.” On his achievement and the competition he adds, “being shortlisted is very reaffirming and a huge honour given the high standard of images being entered and selected for the exhibition. It’s also a great time to be involved with the NPG – there is such a buzz about the space.
The reopening also presents a real opportunity to change and to do things differently. We are already seeing some great initiatives where shortlisted photographers are being asked to run workshops with students; and for the first time the NPG gave people on low to no income free entry to the competition. I really respect that and I’ve got a feeling that this is just the start.”
Jake’s top tip for portrait photography:
- A portrait is a collaboration between you and the person in the image – the sitter and photographer. Without that person you would have nothing.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023 Exhibition:
- Opens Thursday 9th November and closes Sunday 25th February 2024
- The exhibition is open Monday-Thursday & Sunday 10:30 – 18:00, Friday & Saturday 10:30-21:00
- Tickets from £8.50, concessions available, free for members.
Tickets are available to purchase at www.npg.org.uk.
Associated events can be booked at www.npg.org.uk/whatson/
Supported by Taylor Wessing