Face time: Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize gives exquisite collection of images a new lease of life

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The portraits were entered for one of the world’s most illustrious photographic competitions

The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at London's National Portrait Gallery is one of the world's most prestigious photographic competitions, the winner netting both £12,000 and global exposure. This year, the judges received 5,340 images from 2,352 photographers and, such is its hallowed exclusivity, chose just 60 – a little over 1 per cent of entries – to exhibit.

What this means is that thousands of professional photographers receive a letter of rejection. For many who, like James O Jenkins, enter every year, it is a rite of passage: hope dashed by disappointment. "When I got my letter last year," says Jenkins, smiling, "I tweeted that once again I wouldn't be enjoying champagne with Taylor Wessing."

Over the following days, he received countless tweets from photographers in a similar position. Among them was one Carole Evans, who suggested they set up an exhibition for their fellow rejects, and call it Portrait Salon, in tribute to the Salon des Refusés of 1863, an exhibition of paintings rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon – the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Jenkins liked the idea, and agreed to help organise it, "as long as it didn't take up too much time, and wasn't k too expensive". It ended up taking a lot of time, and the pair found themselves out of pocket covering costs.

But the exhibition garnered much praise, and this year it returns, this time with Arts Council funding, and now even more popular: 333 photographers submitted more than 1,105 images, 74 of which will make the cut.

Unlike the National Portrait Gallery's equivalent, hopefuls can submit for free, digitally. As a result, the founders have found themselves helming an award of increasing import. While some critics considered Portrait Salon a publicity stunt, Jenkins reasons: "Our aims were pretty simple. If 99 per cent of photographers don't make the National exhibition, there must be an awful lot of really good out work there that still deserves to be seen."

The result is certainly an eclectic show, revealing subjects in all sorts of situations, at once simple and understated (a girl sitting with her camera), provocative (an older woman sitting in a towel, tattoos on show), and curiously melancholy (half-naked tribal girls in a supermarket).

One of the judges is Dan Burn-Forti, himself a successful veteran of Taylor Wessing's selection process, and regular contributor to this newspaper. "I thought it was a fantastic idea," he says. "I've often been underwhelmed by the National Portrait Gallery's offerings, thinking that surely there were better portraits out there. But then I guess that's inevitable: it's all subjective, isn't it?"

He and his fellow judges spent several weeks wading through hundreds of photographs, many of which had recurring themes. "There was a lot of old-person nudity," Burn-Forti laughs. "Really quite too much, in fact. And a lot of old naked people with tattoos. Who knows why?"

Those lucky enough to be selected now have a chance of reaching a wider audience themselves. But there is no overall winner – which pleases Burn-Forti: he has never been much enamoured with the awarding of prizes. "It's a ridiculous concept," he says. "How can you judge which is best when they are all so different? I can understand saying, for example, that Mo Farah is the best, because he is in what he does, but it's a little harder to quantify in art, no?"

He did, however, enjoy being a judge. "It made me think a lot about portraiture, but also made me question my own work," he says, "the kind of photographs I may take, and what I should avoid. I won't be taking any pictures of old naked people, for one thing…"

The selected images will be shown as a projection on the evening of 29 November in venues in London, Brighton, Cardiff and Leeds. For more: portraitsalon.tumblr.com. The second edition of the Portrait Salon newspaper will be available to buy on the night

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices