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

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea