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The Winners of The Taylor Wessing 2023 Photo Portrait Prize

The National Portrait Gallery has announced the prize winners for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2023 at its awards ceremony on 6 November 2023.


The competition which received a record number of entries this year, showcasing the diversity and creativity of contemporary portrait photography featured a joint third place award, 'owing to the outstanding quality of submissions this year'. Likewise, a new £8,000 commission was launched for the 2023 competition.

 

First Prize: Alexandre Silberman, Diena

Diena by Alexandre Silberman | Gelatin silver print, July 2022 | From the series NATURE
Diena by Alexandre Silberman | Gelatin silver print, July 2022 | From the series NATURE

French photographer Alexandre Silberman won the first prize for his portrait of Diena, a young woman he met in La Courneuve park, one of the largest green spaces near Paris. For several years, 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, NATURE, includes portraits of people he encountered in the park, where he was drawn by the contrast between the urban environment and the natural landscape.


Silberman says Diena was "an apparition", her figure "illuminated by sunlight". He shot her in strong, direct sunlight, allowing him to "sculpt with light". Having already photographed the park in colour, this time he chose to shoot in black and white, being "more interested in capturing light and shade than the green of the park". The judges felt this portrait encompassed a compelling blend of the traditional and the contemporary. They affirmed that 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.


 

Second Prize: Gilleam Trapenberg, Kisha and LaDarayon


The second prize was awarded to Gilleam Trapenberg for his portrait of Kisha and her youngest son LaDarayon, from his 2023 series CURRENTS. 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.


Made on the island of Saint Martin, part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, the portrait shows Kisha with her youngest son. Trapenberg says he was struck by the quiet and tender moment between Kisha and LaDarayon, 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. The judges found this portrait very moving. They believe the portrait draws our attention to a profound and relatable moment in the midst of an otherwise ordinary and everyday setting.

 

Third Prize: Jake Green, Shaun Ryder


Jake Green's portrait of Shaun Ryder, former lead singer of 'Madchester's' Happy Mondays, won the third prize. Green, a born-and-bred East Ender, says collaboration is key to his practice and that an honest and disarming conversation led to the musician's suggestion to capture him vaping. 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. Green says he found himself to have a rapport with Ryder, which is something, along with an imaginative element, he thinks is key to a successful portrait. 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 - a surreal experience for the photographer.

 

Third Prize: Carl Francois van der Linde, Chotu Lal Upside-down


Hazel Mphande A fatalistic warning, 2021 Archival pigment on Felix Schoeller True Fibre 59 x 39.3cm Framed Size: 60 x 40 x 5cm
Chotu Lal Upside-down by Carl Francois van der Linde | Inkjet print, February 2023 | From the series Our Leader

Carl Francois van der Linde also won the third prize for his portrait of Chotu Lal Upside-down, from his series Our Leader. Van der Linde, who is based in South Africa, was inspired by an online meme of the Great Khali, the first Indian-born WWE World Heavyweight Champion who is celebrated across the globe by his huge fan base worldwide. Van der Linde contacted Khali and asked to profile 30 wrestlers from his academy. He captured their kayfabe, the staged performance of wrestling that they often filmed and posted online to boost their popularity. One of these photos shows Chotu Lal hanging upside down from a tree, surrounded by the muscular bodies of his peers. 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. Van der Linde thinks it’s part of the appeal of that photo. 'You don’t know what’s going on', he said.


 

Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission: Serena Brown, Me nana fie


me nana fie by Serena Brown
'me nana fie' by Serena Brown

Me nana fie, a portrait by London-based photographer, Serena Brown, meaning 'my grandma's house' in Twi, was awarded the Taylor Wessing Photographic Commission. Growing up in a close-knit Ghanaian community in west London instilled in Brown a sense of pride and belonging. It ‘created a sense of working-class community,’ Brown explains, ‘and being proud of where you’re from.’ Brown visited her family last year in Accra, Ghana, for the first time since she was a toddler. She took this photo of her sister Chloe, who had never been to Ghana before, and Kojo, a boy they had just befriended. Kojo is the son of her grandma's driver and he has a playful grin on his face as he hides behind Chloe on the porch. Brown's portraits are honest, joyful and authentic, celebrating and uplifting her community. The judges liked the candid and lively mood of the portrait especially its natural and spontaneous feel, which shows the sitters' expressive faces and their warm bond.


 

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