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
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power