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The great strength of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is that it brings together a variety of images, from reportage and documentary photographs to studio portraits. This year some 5,000 photographs were submitted for the competition. As chair of the selection panel, I encourage my fellow judges (this year Emma Hardy, Lauren Heinz, Glyn Morgan, Sean O’Hagan and Terence Pepper) to hold individual opinions and to argue for the works they find particularly appealing. Consensus on the final selection is always reached, but the exhibition is more diverse as a result of this debate.

Margarita Teichroeb From the series Menonos By Jordi Ruiz Cirera September 2011

This year’s shortlisted entries gave the judges much to discuss. The first prize-winner by Jordi Ruiz Cirera is a slow-burn image, it’s not high-impact. But the subject’s expression – her eyes – absolutely draw you in. Initially, you’re not sure what the circumstances are, she seems constrained, but I think the photographer encourages us to feel great empathy for her situation.

Lynne, Brighton By Jennifer Pattison May 2012

The second prize-winner, Jennifer Pattison’s image is fantastic – I remember very vividly when we were judging that someone made the remark that the thing that really stands out is the chipped mug. It catches your eye, and it’s a completely secondary matter that she is not wearing any clothes. The nakedness is so incidental - you’re simply drawn to her expression and her character.

Mark Rylance By Spencer Murphy May 2012

Third prize-winner, Spencer Murphy’s portrait of Mark Rylance both spoke to us as a portrait of a great actor, but also resonates with the character of ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem and how that character had seeped into the national consciousness. Murphy has captured both aspects in this close-up, meditative portrait.

The Ventriloquist By Alma Haser May 2012

Fourth prize-winner, Alma Haser’s portrait The Ventriloquist starts out as a puzzle and remains a puzzle. You don’t quite know what the relationship is between the two young men -  but it seems very strong. The composition is so beautifully put together that the harmony in this image drew the judges to it – there was very little debate about it.

The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei Matthew Niederhauser October 2011

Matthew Niederhauser’s portrait of the artist Ai Weiwei was chosen for the John Kobal New Work Award for a photographer under thirty.  I think everyone in the world of culture and the arts has great sympathy for Ai Weiwei and the struggle for artistic freedom he has endured. The contrast of Ai, the innocent kitten, and the saturated colour of the background really make this a great portrait.

By 'Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery

Image Credit

Margarita Teichroeb, From the series Menonos, By Jordi Ruiz Cirera, September 2011
Lynne, Brighton, By Jennifer Pattison, May 2012
Mark Rylance, By Spencer Murphy, May 2012
The Ventriloquist, By Alma Haser, May 2012
The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei, Matthew Niederhauser, October 2011



Got something to say?


11 February 2013, 18:39

I would like to know what was in the mind of the photographer.... Scott Russell's analysis is such a shift from my initial view that I wonder if we are all missing such intentions behind the images.


04 December 2012, 15:50

Thanks for your comments. Each year the judges panel changes and portraits are judged purely on the images seen. There is no particular interest amongst the judges to include more well known faces but to select the photographs we feel are the strongest.


03 December 2012, 16:22

I think the TW PP is fabulous. It represents some truly inspiring work and innovation.
I've had an image exhibited in the original J Kobal PP, (a long time ago!).
However I feel that too much emphasis is placed on portraits of famous people.
I know it helps with publicity and brings in the crowds - and I'm sure that other portraits are more worthy. I know these are good portraits but how much emphasis is assigned because they are well known subjects.
Not every photographer has the opportunity to have access to such people.
Not a criticism, just a thought.

Scott Russell

03 December 2012, 15:53

The portrait of Ai Weiwei is multi-layered. Firstly, it is a powerful and rich image which draws you in followed by the political/social comment about the strength of the character sensitively holding the 'innocent' creature which then comments on this brave man standing up to the regime. I think this is a photo for the 'year books'. Scott 3 December 2012

Charlotte H.

03 December 2012, 13:23

The NPG is one of my most FAVE places to spend time in. If I ever feel down, I just hop on the bus and visit this wonderful gallery. Actually the very early 13th Century ..... are my favourites because I can never get over the fact that at the same moment in history, there are people who do art, then those who will chop off the heads of young girls. ANYWAY - as far as the Photographic Portrait Prize - as with the wonderful BP Portrait Competition - I never agree with the choice of winner. The number one spot seems always to go to a very understated work - just a little bit too understated for me. Lovely work though, and it's wonderful the NPG has such inspirational shows - especially for young people to see what is actually going on, and that they too can participate.


08 November 2012, 17:48

Spencer Murphy’s portrait of Mark Rylance is very beautiful, because very expressive.

Sandy Nairne

08 November 2012, 09:17

When we judged this work, I was certainly aware of the subsequent sad circumstances for Mark Rylance, but it was not a specific discussion amongst the judges. I think we all felt that this was such a powerful portrait that captured Rylance as an individual, but also gave some reference to his recent famous stage roles, such as playing 'Rooster' Byron in Jerusalem.


06 November 2012, 16:58

The unexpected early death of Mark Rylance's stepdaughter, the film director Nataasha van Kampen, in the Summer gives this meditative portrait an added poignancy for me, even though I know Rylance was photographed in May before her death. Was it a dilemma for the judges when assessing this portrait in the late Summer when you were aware of the recent tragedy in his life?

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