BP Portrait Award 2013 Publication

For the Publications team, the production of the annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and BP Portrait Award catalogues are very demanding as there are only three weeks between the selection of the fifty-five works that will be exhibited and the print deadline. Most of our publications are printed in East Asia as it’s more economic, but the schedules for Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and BP Portrait Award don’t allow for the six weeks it takes to ship to the UK, so they are printed in Europe. As far as book publishing goes, it doesn’t get tighter than this. 

For me, one of the most exciting parts of making the catalogue comes right at the beginning: the unveiling of the selected works the day after the judging. For a long time now, I have been a fan of the competition, so it was particularly exciting to get a special preview. Essentially, I’m there to take photographs so that we can earmark paintings for postcards and the catalogue cover and as a painter myself, I’m also going to see what’s been selected.

The space that hosted this year’s judging (an old biscuit factory) is full of paintings: the chosen fifty-five portraits are displayed in the centre of the room. Ana Perez de Rada (Assistant Buyer) and I start to inspect, closely studying all the faces in the paintings, thinking about the format, the colours, the gender and age of the sitters, and if they would make someone pick up the book or postcard and buy it. It’s like speed-dating with fifty-five static, painted dates. I had my own favourites and so did Ana, but we were interested to see what the team would think. 

We then made our selection of postcards in the next few days. Scrutinizing last year’s Visitor Comments and thinking about the exhibition’s audience, we’re confident we know what will sell. Then we move on to deciding the image for the catalogue cover, which takes a little longer. Paintings that didn’t particularly stand out at first now emerge as contenders for the cover. One image that I really loved just wasn’t going to work because its colour didn’t work with the black of the catalogue design. It was Jess Kim (Marketing Co-ordinator) who suggested the image that we eventually went with (Heterochrome – Fraser & his self-portrait by Greg Kapka). The painting seems an obvious choice in hindsight: it’s an intriguing image with lots to look at and the magnifying glass suggestive of close scrutiny complements perfectly the act of painting a portrait. Once the postcards and the cover were approved by senior colleagues in the Gallery’s Design Presentation Meeting, we could put those to bed.

Next, onto the text. In the past we’ve had essays by such much-loved authors as Michael Rosen and Alison Weir, and, with Joanna Trollope on board, this year was no exception. The essay, entitled ‘Remember Me’ comes in, it’s copyedited and sent back to Joanna for author approval. In this year’s catalogue we also included interviews with the prizewinners, and Richard McClure, our interviewer, had to interview Susanne du Toit, John Devane and Owen Normand, without giving away which prize they’d won.

With the text finalised and all the works photographed, the designer, Anne Sorensen, set about designing the catalogue. Again, time is of the essence – we’re probably a week into our schedule now. We’d usually give a designer about three weeks to design a catalogue – Anne has just three days.

Our Production Manager, Ruth Müller-Wirth, then gets to work on the images. The repro house run out full colour proofs and we take our time to ensure that they match the original paintings.

Images looking good, layouts checked and proofread and we’re ready to go to press. A month or so later, we receive an advance copy (always exciting for an editor, no matter how big or small the publication), and we’re ready to stock the shop. And I can’t wait to see the paintings again on the night of the private view.

Pre-order the BP Portrait Award 2013 catalogue (paperback) online

The Publications team is part of the Gallery’s Trading department, which produces and sells books, prints, cards and gifts that reflect the Collection and exhibitions programme and generate revenue that supports the Gallery’s work.

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