Photographic Portrait Prize 2006 - Winner
Joe (from the series 'Pavement')
by Richard Boll
© the artist
The fourth annual Photographic Portrait Prize has been won by Richard Boll, 29, for 'Joe' . His first-prize winning photograph was taken outside his flat on Brighton's seafront and is the result of a four-minute chance meeting with Joe, a total stranger walking past, who initially did not want to be photographed. After eventually agreeing to the photograph, Joe left Richard Boll and both went their separate ways. But once he had heard the portrait had been shortlisted for the Photographic Portrait Prize, Boll set about trying to track 'Joe' down. Having called at local pubs with a copy of the picture to ask if anyone had seen him, he eventually found him outside a café.
Part of a series of 'very informal, quickly shot' portraits of passers-by, entitled Pavement, the winning photograph was taken on a hot day in June of this year. Joe is shown standing with his arms at his sides, exposing a naked torso adorned with beads, bracelets, tattoos and a naval piercing. He carries a bottle of water and a long-strapped bag is wrapped around his shoulder. 'Joe immediately interested me' says Richard Boll. 'It was a quick encounter, four minutes, most of which was spent persuading him to pose. Joe insisted he wasn't photogenic. I disagreed. With this kind of portraiture, there's a level of trust that has to be won in a short space of time, and I always tell my subjects to be themselves. It lets them know I'm not out to misrepresent them; that I'm not being unkind.'
In Boll's portrait, Joe's stark but enigmatic facial expression and ambiguous pose seem to convey both confidence and vulnerability. 'In Joe's portrait there are some details that hint at a certain level of vulnerability, but these are played off against other details, like his tattoos and adornments, that suggest a real resilience and self-belief. His expression is quite complex and defies interpretation.'
Joe was shot using a Canon 1 Ds Mk II plus one camera flash in order to control the exposure of the subject whilst over-exposing the background and throwing it out of focus. While the figure of Joe dominates the portrait, behind him two cars give added depth to the background and symmetry to the overall composition. 'I didn't appreciate the significance of having the cars in the background until I was looking at the image later' he says. 'I now feel they really hold the portrait together.'
Richard Boll (b1977) graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art with a degree in photography in 1999. He has photographs in the libraries of Getty, Millennium and Famous. In 2004 he won the Audi /Next Level Award for contemporary photography, with pictures of empty painting and sculpture studios in an art college. Born in Kenya but brought up on the Isle of Wight, Boll began taking photographs as a teenager, experimenting at first with black-and-whites of the local landscape. Inspired by photographers such as Irving Penn and Nadav Kander who juggle art and commerce, Boll now specialises in still life and architectural client-work while also pursuing his own personal projects. He hopes to exhibit his Brighton series Pavement in the near future. 'Brighton has a very diverse population' he says 'that's why I enjoy taking portraits there. If I can't take a decent portrait in Brighton, I can't take one anywhere.'