Spanish Londoner wins Taylor Wessing prize for portrait of reluctant Bolivian woman


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The Independent Culture

Jordi Ruiz Cirera, 28, has won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 for his photograph of Bolivian woman who (only reluctantly) agreed to have her portrait taken. 

The £12,000 award was presented to Ruiz Cirera at the National Portrait Gallery, London, last night and the winning portrait goes on show at the gallery on Thursday.

He won the trust of the Mennonite woman while journeying through South America. The winning portrait is part of a series called Menonos, in which Ruiz Cirera documents the daily life of a religious community.

Margarita Teichroeb (above) is pictured at the home she shares with her mother and sister in the Swift Current Colony in Bolivia.

"Sitting in front of the camera was not easy for Margarita, photography is forbidden for Mennonites and having her direct portrait taken was quite difficult so I could only take two frames of her," Ruiz Cirera said. 

"She seems to be afraid of the photographer, unwilling to expose herself to our gaze. Her awkward expression says a lot about the tradition, isolation and lifestyle of this community."

More than 50,000 Mennonites live in Bolivia, descendants of Christian Anabaptists who left Germany in the sixteenth century. Famously reclusive, the pacifist sect still speaks Low German and their society prohibits the use of cars and electricity.

"It’s a very humble existence. They live as their ancestors did, in small, conservative communities devoted to God and sustained by hard work in the fields. Mennonite society is very patriarchal and gender roles are strict," Ruiz Cirera said. 

Born in Spain, Ruiz Cirera studied Design at Elisava College, Barcelona, before moving to the UK and gaining an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication.

His work has been included in numerous exhibitions and this year he has won the AOP Student Awards as well as the Deutsche Bank Award in Photography.

Four other Taylor Wessing awards were also given to shortlisted photographers.

Click here or on "View Gallery" for the runners up