Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2023
Congratulations to our prize winners for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023, who were announced at our Awards Ceremony on 6 November 2023.
Owing to the outstanding quality of submissions this year, a joint third place was awarded. For the 2023 competition, the National Portrait Gallery also launched a new £8,000 commission, in addition to first, second and third prizes,
For several years, French photographer Alexandre Silberman has been photographing the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the youngest and most culturally diverse areas of France, but also one of the poorest. His current series made there, NATURE, includes portraits in one of the largest green spaces near Paris, La Courneuve park, where this prize-winning portrait was taken. Silberman says Diena was ‘an apparition’, her figure ‘illuminated by sunlight’. On being approached, she readily agreed to be photographed. Having already photographed the park in colour, this time Silberman shot in black and white, being ‘more interested in capturing light and shade than the green of the park.’ His prizewinning portrait of Diena was shot in strong, direct sunlight, allowing Silberman to ‘sculpt with light.’
Alexandre Silberman (b.1983) undertook an MA in philosophy followed by an MA in communication at Lyon University. His documentary projects have been seen in exhibitions including the Head On Photo Festival 2021, Sydney; Palm Photo Prize 2020, UK and the Feature Shoot Street Photo Awards 2019, New York. His work has been published in magazines including Marie Claire, Musée and Courrier International.
Judges’ comments: The judges felt this portrait encompassed a compelling blend of the traditional and the contemporary. The composition evokes art historical depictions of a Madonna, and the monochrome palette lends a timeless quality to the work, while contemporary details bring the portrait firmly into the present.
Hear Alexandre Silberman reflecting on his shortlisted image.
So, my name is Alexandre Silberman, I'm a photographer, director. I live in Paris and my photographic work is mainly local and documentary based.
NATURE, the series from which Diena's portrait is taken, focuses on the Parc La Courneuve, one of Europe's largest artificial parks. Already in my previous series, Differences and Repetitions, some of my photos were taken in the park, but I wanted to explore it more exclusively, playing on this nature-artificiality dichotomy. Saint-Denis is also a very cosmopolitan area, which means that the park is used in many different ways. It's a place to rest, to play, to gather food, to pray, and also to practice music. In its very essence, the park of La Courneuve has something very paradoxical about it, and therefore something very interesting to work on. It's a real lung for the region, but also for its inhabitants.
Diena is one of them. She lives in Aubervilliers, a town in Saint-Denis. This is one of the least vegetated towns in France. My search for models and my shots are always taken on the spot as I walk through the park. It was during one of these that I noticed Diena, sitting in the sun with a suitcase and dried flowers on it. What I first noticed about Diena, apart from the softness of her expression and the way her face took the light extremely well, was a more imposing element around her. Her suitcase, her large bouquet of red flowers, her large white veil falling on the ground.
It was only at the end that I decided to do close-up portraits. I only had two shots left on my film. I took a close-up of Diena concentrating on her face, but also on her blouse. The vegetation was no longer what Diena was standing on, but Diena herself. This gives the portrait a mystical power, accentuated by her very inner expression and the dropping of the veil.
Born in Curaçao, about 40 miles north of Venezuela, Gilleam Trapenberg’s work explores the disconnect between representations of Caribbean islands in contemporary visual culture and the lived reality of everyday life for their inhabitants. This portrait was made on the island of Saint Martin, part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. It shows Kisha who has sat for Trapenberg on several occasions since 2018. Here, she is with her youngest son, who was ten years old at the time. ‘He just stood in front of his mother, and she hugged him, and I knew right away, this is a beautiful portrait,’ Trapenberg remembers. ‘It felt like a mother holding on to her son before he enters adolescence,’ but also, he suggests, a son beginning to outgrow his mother’s embrace.
Gilleam Trapenberg (b.1991) studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. His work has been seen in solo exhibitions in the Netherlands and group exhibitions including at the Fotomuseum Den Haag (2023), Photography Center, Beijing, China (2022) and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2020).
Judges’ comments: The judges found this quiet and tender moment between a mother and her son who is on the brink of adolescence very moving. The portrait draws our attention to a profound and relatable moment in the midst of an otherwise ordinary and everyday setting.
Hear Gilleam Trapenberg discussing his shortlisted image.
My name is Gilleam Trapenberg. I'm a photographer and visual artist from Curaçao, currently based in Amsterdam. The image Kisha and LaDarayon was taken on the island of Saint Martin. I took this photograph in April of 2023. The people, the sitters you see in the image are people that have become friends of mine. Kisha is someone I photographed four or five years ago for the first time, and I think that was also the first time I photographed her son LaDarayon.
Within my work, I find it interesting to show a side of the Caribbean that we don't often get to see. This side is informed by my personal experience and those of other islanders, and I think that it is also to show that in the Caribbean, there are multiple stories or multiple narratives. There's not one Caribbean islander, there's not one type of Caribbean image. Curaçao is so completely different from Aruba, not even only talking about the language, but also the landscape, flora, fauna, the people, and that's the same with an island like Saint Martin or Jamaica or Barbados, and I think that is something that I want to try and research in my work and to show that that is possible.
When I found out I was shortlisted, I was so ecstatic. It's the second time I sent in work, and I was doubting about sending in work because I was working on the images at the time, the project title wasn't super clear to me yet. I was also in the process of still editing the work, what's going to be in there, what's not. So, it's really something that I almost thought about not applying, but it means so much to me, and especially also for the work to be given a platform like this, that's truly an honour.
Born-and-bred East Ender, Jake Green’s prize-winning portrait is of Shaun Ryder, former lead singer of ‘Madchester’s’ Happy Mondays. Collaboration is key to Green’s practice and the photographer explains that an honest and disarming conversation preceded the musician’s suggestion that Green capture him vaping – a surreal experience for the photographer. Ryder’s head disappeared behind a cloud of smoke in a moment of self-obliteration, allowing for a humorous and intriguing portrait of a world-famous pop star. During the sitting, Green found himself to have a rapport with Ryder, which is something, along with an imaginative element, he thinks is key to a successful portrait.
Jake Green (b.1981) undertook foundation studies at London Guildhall followed by a BA degree at Westminster University. His documentary project on the global coffee industry, Drink My Sweat, has been seen in an outdoor exhibition in Leytonstone with other solo exhibitions in London and Oslo, and film screenings at the Barbican.
Judges’ comments: The judges were intrigued by being presented with a characterful celebrity portrait where the face is not revealed, but the personality of the sitter is still conveyed.
Hear Jake Green reflecting on his shortlisted image.
My name's Jake. I'm a visual artist and I take pictures of people and places, so portraits and documentary photography. So the person in the picture on display is Shaun Ryder, who's the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape, a band that I grew up listening to.
I was commissioned to photograph Shaun, and it was after I'd done that commission, that I pulled him aside and we did some extra portraits. So when you're taking pictures of public figures or celebrities, you don't really get a lot of time, so you have to be quite concise and focused with what you're doing. But sometimes if the moment's right, you can squeeze a little bit extra time. If your rapport is good and they kind of feel like they trust you as a photographer a little bit, you can do something outside of the brief or outside of what's expected.
And that's what happened with Shaun. So I just sort of pulled him aside, I said, 'I've got another idea I want to do. It's quite low light, it's much less glossy. It's more sort of side of stage shot.' And so that's how that picture came about. And I mean, he suggested getting his vape and vaping, maybe just because he fancied vaping, but it was this moment of complete spontaneity that created this accidental portrait, which I see is a bit of representing Shaun's genius, really, that he was just spontaneous. He vaped and this cloud of smoke covered his face, which just makes it extra intriguing, I think.
Happy Mondays and Black Grape kind of sound tracked my adolescence to some extent. So when I met him, it was quite surreal, but then he was really modest and humble and really actually quite vulnerable.
When I found out I'd been shortlisted, I was really surprised, but really happy, because I've been entering that prize, before it was even called the Taylor Wessing, since I was 18, so it's over 25 years, I've been entering that prize. And I just said to myself, I'm going to enter for the rest of my life. I'm just going to do it. As long as it exists, I'm just going to enter until I get shortlisted or until I get on the wall or something.
So it was a massive achievement for me, but also I had this sort of conflict within me where I don't really like to be the centre of attention, and I don't like to be hero-ed in myself in any way. Even the picture of Shaun is a collaboration between Shaun and I, so I want Shaun to be celebrated as well.
Two photographs by Carl Francois van der Linde were selected for this year’s exhibition, with Chotu Lal Upside-down being chosen as a prize winner. The seed for the series Our Leader was an online meme of the Great Khali, the first Indian-born WWE World Heavyweight Champion, who has millions of fans across the globe after which van der Linde reached out, proposing he profile 30 wrestlers at Khali’s academy. Van der Linde describes kayfabe as the staged performance of wrestling often filmed to increase wrestlers’ social media profile, similar to the image of Chotu Lal, hanging upside down from a tree, flanked by the flesh of his fellow wrestlers. He says ‘I think it’s part of the appeal of that photo. You don’t know what’s going on.’
Carl Francois van der Linde (b.1993) gained a BA degree in commerce, economics and international trade and undertook postgraduate studies in marketing and communication. He is a largely self-taught analogue photographer whose work has been seen in the PhotoVogue Festival, where he was nominated as one of the Next Generation Fashion Image Makers 2022.
Judges’ comments: The judges kept returning to this work to decipher the intriguing composition. The rhythm of the bodies’ shapes and forms across the image was unique and captivating.
Hear Carl van der Linde reflecting on his shortlisted image.
Hello, my name is Carl van der Linde. I'm a South African photographer based in Cape Town.
Stylistically, I focus mainly on documentary, travel and portraiture, sometimes mixing in a little bit of fashion. I'm interested in photojournalism where I explore stories in overlooked locations with subjects often from fringe or marginalised communities.
The sitter in this portrait, his name is Arjun Raj, but he goes by his ring name Chotu Lal, which was given to him by The Great Khali, who is the founder of the CWE Wrestling Academy. The Great Khali's real name is Dalip Singh Rana. He's a retired Indian pro wrestler. He was once the WWE Heavyweight Champion of the World and the only Indian wrestler to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Chotu Lal is a 16-year-old aspiring wrestler from Bihar State in northeast India. He's smaller in stature and uses it as a comedic act or edge to his wrestling persona. The picture was taken in Jalandhar, which is in Punjab state at the CWE Wrestling Academy location.
The CWE drew my attention when I saw the plethora of characters that we're to shoot and the extent of the kayfabe antics, which refers to the staged and premeditated performance presented as authentic in professional wrestling. For a documentary photographer, this is pure gold.
I always think of the photos as the last part of the process. The thrill of gaining access to the wrestling community, planning the logistics and travel to rural Jalandhar in Punjab, meeting people from completely different walks of life, stepping out of your comfort zone into Indian chaos. Once you jump these hurdles, good photos will naturally follow.
As a photographer, I feel I have such a debt to pay to the subjects I work with. There would be no portrait of mine featured at the Gallery's Taylor Wessing exhibition without their dreams, humanity, and unique individuality.
Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission
London-based photographer Serena Brown’s honest, joyful and authentic portraits celebrate and uplift her community. She grew up in west London, surrounded by a close group of family and friends – ‘a lovely little bubble of Ghana’ – which ‘created a sense of working-class community,’ she explains, ‘and being proud of where you’re from.’ Last year, Brown visited her family in Accra, Ghana, returning for the first time since she was two years old. The title me nana fie translates as ‘my grandma’s house’ in the Ghanaian dialect, Twi. This portrait of the photographer’s sister Chloe, who had never visited the country before, came about ‘organically and spontaneously’. It features a young boy they had recently met – Kojo, the son of her grandma’s driver – with a cheeky expression, peeking out from behind her sister on the porch.
Serena Brown (b.1997) undertook a BA degree in photography at Falmouth University. Her work has been seen in magazines including Creative Review, The Face and Grazia with commissioned portraits published in the New York Times and Elle. She was included in the recent group exhibition, Women on Women in London.
Judges’ comments: The judges enjoyed the natural and spontaneous feel of this portrait. The sitters are casually posed, but the portrait captures their evocative expressions and emanates a sense of warmth and affection.
Hear Serena Brown reflecting on her shortlisted image.
My name's Serena Brown, and I am a documentary portrait photographer from west London. My work is centred around community and photographing young people and working-class people. It's always really important for me to capture my community in an authentic light, and I always try and make work that feels really real and tells stories of the people and represents them in a way they want to be seen.
This portrait was taken at my grandma's house in Accra, in Ghana. The sitter is my younger sister who I've been photographing since I've had a camera, so I tend to shoot her wherever I go. It was quite a monumental trip for me and my sister going back. We went by ourselves. I hadn't been since I was two years old, and Chloe hadn't been at all. So it was definitely a sort of homecoming trip, and I didn't really want to put too much pressure on making this massive photo project. I went into it having no plan or idea of what I wanted to capture. I just wanted to enjoy shooting Ghana and have fun with it.
It just felt most comfortable shooting in my grandma's backyard. It just happened very organically and spontaneously. I actually shot everything on film, and it was only when I got back to London, I looked at everything and I thought, 'Wow, this could actually be a pretty cool project to continue.' I think previously projects I've made I've been so meticulous with planning beforehand and I've known what the series was going to be, so it just feels like a bit more special, I think, for it to have just happened so naturally.
I found out I was shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Prize when I was actually on a shoot. I was halfway up a ladder in a pub. It was the most random situation to be in, so I kind of had to contain myself a little bit. It's a massive dream of mine to be a part of Taylor Wessing. It's something that I've gone to see at school trips, and I never thought that I would actually be a part of it, let alone have got this far, so it's really exciting.