This year’s £12,000 Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2014 has been won by David Titlow for his almost Caravaggiesque image of a dog and baby. Although the image is excellent for the use of the light and shadows (chiaroscuro) in order to convey the ‘close’ encounter between the dog and the baby, it is hardly a portrait. There is an action taking place which should make the jury rethink the limits of the genre. This emphasis on the action is underlined by the references to Caravaggio’s ‘Calling of Saint Matthew’ and, more generally, to Nativities. The narrow chromatic range reinforces the use of chiaroscuro as an homage to Caravaggio and, possibly, Rembrandt.
The £3,000 second prize was awarded to Jessica Fulford-Dobson for Skate Girl which depicts a muslim girl holding a skate. I disagree with this second prize for the portrait does not allow us any insight into the psychology of the sitter. The effectiveness of the image relies too much on the contrast between the girl’s religious attire and the westernised allure that the skateboard brings about. From a compositional point of view, there is a well balanced integration of the lines of the body, the skateboard and the ceiling (in one point perspective).
The John Kobal New Work Award was awarded to the portrait that in my opinion was, by far, the best of the whole exhibition. I am referring to Laura Pannack for Chayla in Shul. The portrait is of Chayla, a young woman whose father is a rabbi at the synagogue in the photograph. Laura Pannack′s series Purity focuses on the lives of Orthodox Jewish women living in Stamford Hill; a project that connects to Pannack′s cultural heritage. Pannack says: ‘I positioned Chayla and directed her whilst importantly allowing her to relax, focus and engage. I wanted her to feel comfortable and empowered.′ Although the sitter feels relaxed that sense of relaxation in directly linked to a certainty of possessing some kind of knowledge that protects her. That sense of protection (by God?) is enhanced by the fact that the sitter has been placed under an arch with a passage of the Talmud. In Chalya’s body, the institutional figure (daughter of the rabbi) and the human being (kid) conflate to create an image of self control and responsibility. Laura Pannack is definitely one to watch. J A T