This year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition features 54 incredible portraits by 25 photographers, whittled down from 5,392 submissions. But who are the sitters on display and the talented photographers behind the lens?
We caught up with two of the Portrait Prize’s exhibitors and their sitters to find out more about them, their work together and what they hope you’ll take away from their image.

Here is photographer Alexander Beer and his sitter Dakota Robin, who features in Alexander’s portrait Him – The beauty of a transgender body and life.

Hi Alexander and Dakota, it’s great to meet you both! Could you tell us both a little more about yourselves and your work as both a photographer, and a human rights activist and motivational speaker?

ALEXANDER: Hi, I have been a photographer now for 13 years, I spent time on the other side of the camera initially so I feel I already had an insight into photography. Having lived abroad since the age of one in Saudi Arabia and Singapore, I grew up around different cultures and religions in the 90's, this was my normality. This environment gave me a love of storytelling that I feel I have brought into everything I photograph. One of the things I enjoy about photography is creating a space for someone to tell their story. This, for me, is a privilege, to have someone open up and bare their soul and life to me through the lens.

DAKOTA: Hi my name’s Dakota and I'm a 30 year old half Turkish Kurd and half Finnish transgender man, who was born in Switzerland but raised by old Finnish war veteran grandparents in a small town in Finland. I was a child that never knew how to adapt to the roles of society because I was so different from others, which is why I had to learn how to connect with others despite the differences. My path has taught me the skills and knowledge that have made me the person I am today.

I am a certified human rights consultant, where I work with companies and communities all around the world educating about diversity, equity and inclusion, and I am also a motivational speaker. My goal is to inspire people to be true to themselves without getting lost in other people’s expectations or losing their sense of self whilst trying to fit in.

How did you both meet?

ALEXANDER: I met Dakota with his fiancée in July 2020 on a magazine editorial commission where the theme was love. I wanted to tell the story of seven couples, regarding what love means to them and touching upon the subjects of gender, sex, religion and more.

We chatted a lot on the shoot, he told me about his life and his journey so far. After this we stayed in touch.

DAKOTA: We clicked straight away and we came really close since that. Our relationship is really brother-like.

Him – The beauty of a transgender body and life, from the series Him – How to Grow From Girl To a Man, Within All the Vulnerability to be Human by Alexander Beer © Alexander Beer

Him – The beauty of a transgender body and life, from the series Him – How to Grow From Girl To a Man, Within All the Vulnerability to be Human by Alexander Beer © Alexander Beer

This portrait is from a series called Him - How to grow from girl to man, within all the vulnerability to be human, and is a collaborative, ongoing project between you both. Could you tell us a little bit more about the series, where you would like it to go and why you think photography was the perfect medium?

DAKOTA: It was Alex's idea. He was super passionate about my unusual life story which holds so much knowledge about diversity and personal growth. He wanted to share the power with others and came up with the idea to document my life. We started the series around the same time I started my hormonal treatments and it will continue until my wedding in 2023.

ALEXANDER: The aim of the series is to help other trans people who feel alone on the journey of transition. We would like to reach as many people as possible, but fundamentally we want it to help people. We want to share an authentic story, How to grow from a girl to a boy within all the vulnerability to be human.

DAKOTA: The series is a raw and authentic growing story with a happy ending, which hopefully will inspire people to love and be loved for who they are.

ALEXANDER: Photography is a great way to tell a story without words as it is very powerful, but combining Dakota's words with the black and white analogue images really complement each other to be more hard hitting.

Personally, I have learned a lot from Dakota, being a straight person at the age of 41 and reflecting how life was for me growing up and comparing with his experiences. The topic of gender and sexuality was not as liberal of a subject as it is now. Things have changed quite a lot. I also feel I have a much better understanding of what gender identity means to individuals now.

DAKOTA: We have become so close with Alex, and most of our photoshoot sessions have ended up being really therapeutic. We are super similar and we are both really spiritual people, which is why we knew straight away that there was a bigger meaning behind our first meeting. Even though Alex is only 12 years older than me, I still feel like he is the dad I never had, the person who I can ask for help and who always cares and guides me. I'm really grateful for being able to work with Alex as well as having him as my friend.

Alexander, you like to work a lot with film, could you tell us a bit more about that and what it is about film that you love?

ALEXANDER: Having photographed on digital for years, I wanted to slow down the process of observation and connecting. My main passion is storytelling and I find analogue gives a truer, more authentic representation of what I see through my own eyes. The grain is beautiful. Life is imperfect like the grain, and digital can give colour and sharpness that's not as real in my opinion.

I feel imperfection is perfection and I love embracing this and celebrating this with my photography.

Could you both tell us more about the creative process and the composition of the portrait?

ALEXANDER: I photographed this on analogue and chose black and white film as I felt it would give a stronger depth to the images, especially when photographing the body and Dakota's scars.

The creative process was very much a human process. I do like to have a plan but I like to go with the flow and let the subject also guide where it goes.

We hung out first before taking images, then took some shots at his flat. After that, we went for a walk to the woods as Dakota grew up in the forest in Finland and I wanted him to connect to his safe place, a place of love and security.

DAKOTA: I'm from Finland and throughout my whole childhood I was running half-naked in the woods believing I was a jungle boy, like Mowgli, until I came to a certain age and I wasn't anymore allowed to run around like the other boys or be shirtless anymore. It was a really traumatic time in my life, and I feel like that was the time when I started to lose myself and I had to become something I was not, I wasn't free anymore.

My love of nature has never disappeared and it's still the place where I feel the most connected to myself and free. Alex knew how hard it has been for me to live in London and that's why he wanted to shoot in the places where I feel most authentic and happy. The whole idea of playing with shadows and which film, cameras etc. has used is all of Alex's work. He is the brain and artist behind it all, I'm just telling him who I am, what I feel and he brings my story to life through the pictures.

ALEXANDER: The portrait which was chosen for the Portrait Prize was very much organically driven in the scene of walking through the woods. The light and shadows were amazing. Dakota felt empowered to have his top off showing his scars proudly, so it was very much a moment in time feeling that strength.

The portrait on display at the Portrait Prize exhibition at Cromwell Place. Photo © David Parry

The portrait on display at the Portrait Prize exhibition at Cromwell Place. Photo © David Parry

What do you both hope someone will take away from your image after seeing it?

DAKOTA: I hope it will inspire people to show the world who they truly are because we are all unique and beautiful despite the shadows and scares in our stories.

ALEXANDER: I hope they see the strength and empowerment of Dakota in this image. If we can help even one person to feel less alone and give them some strength and encouragement, this will have made shooting this series incredibly worthwhile.

What does it mean to you for this image to have been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize?

ALEXANDER: For me this is the greatest privilege as a portrait / documentary photographer. I feel blessed and grateful to be part of the 2021 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.

DAKOTA: And I feel so grateful and also honoured to represent the trans community.

Although the Portrait Prize exhibition is now closed, you can still enjoy the works on our website.

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