The best portraits at this year’s National Portrait Gallery photography prize
Art | 22 August 2019

Neil from the series Love’s Fire Song by Enda Bowe 2018 © Enda Bowe

The National Portrait Gallery’s twenty-sixth Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 is in full swing with the announcement of its three shortlisted photographers: Enda Bowe, Garrod Kirkwood and Pat Martin, whose work moves from Belfast estates to Northumberland coastline and family ties in LA.

As one of the most prestigious international photography awards, the annual Portrait Prize provides an invaluable platform for fledgling talents to announced themselves on a global stage. Open to photographers of all qualification, from esteemed professionals to amateurs, the competition is an unparalleled opportunity for exposure. Also up for grabs is a first prize pot of £15,000, while second and third place will receive £3,000 and £2,000, respectively.

This year’s prize-winning portraits submitted by Bowe, Kirkwood and Martin were selected from 3,700 images entered by 1,611 photographers from 70 countries. A further 55 portraits from 31 artists have been selected for exhibition. 

Enda Bowe

Neil from the series Love’s Fire Song by Enda Bowe 2018 © Enda Bowe

Neil from the series Love’s Fire Song was entered by Irish-born, London-based Enda Bowe. Born in 1972, Bowe’s images prioritise storytelling and tease out beauty in the everyday, as evidenced by this intimate portrayal of Neil, a young man from Belfast’s Conway estate. “l concentrated on the ordinary, the everyday. The photographs use a saturated colour palette with only subtle symbolisms, and without reference to the specific locations they were taken,” says Bowe. “Free from political and geographical context, the photographs speak of longing, yearning, aspirations and vulnerabilities of young people in Belfast today.”

Bowe, who won second prize at last year’s competition, has had work shown internationally, including Red Hook Gallery, New York, The V&A Museum, London, Fotohof, Salzburg, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, and VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Ireland.

Garrod Kirkwood

The Hubbucks from the series England by Garrod Kirkwood 2018 © Garrod Kirkwood.

Hubbucks from British photographer Garrod Kirkwood’s (born 1979) series England sees a young family animated by the familiar excitement of summer holiday excitement en route Whitley Bay beach in the north east of England, near where the photographer is based.

In keeping with Kirkwood’s fixation on psycho-geographic effects (previous projects include Japan, Benidorm and East Midlands), the family – while united in anticipation – are also clearly a cohort of individuals, with each personality engaged in their own activity. As Kirkwood says, “This is a magical moment and portrait of a family and a group of individuals that we all can relate to.”

Pat Martin

Gail and Beaux from the series Goldie Mother by Pat Martin 2018 © Pat-Martin

LA-based photographer Pat Martin’s entry Gail and Beaux: Mom (our last one) comes from his series Goldie (Mother). Born in 1992, Martin uses photography as a portal for accessing personal memories and to trace his relationship with time – a theme clearly evident in a Prize submission featuring his late mother who nursed a lifelong struggle with addiction. Speaking on his memory of her, Martin said, “For most of my life, I misunderstood my mother and witnessed how the world misunderstood her. Photographing her became a way of looking into a mirror and finding details never noticed. There were always new ones to discover, and something new to hide.”

In addition to the 55 top portraits, this year’s exhibition will also showcase previously unseen prints from New York’s Ethan James Green. The prints will form the fifth In Focus display, an annual showcase for new work by an internationally recognised photographer. Green’s captivating monochrome portraits were shot between 2014-2018, featuring duos of his close comrades and the Lower East Side community.

The prizes for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 will be announced on Tuesday 5 November 2019 at 19.00. The Prize’s exhibition will run from 7 November 2019 – 16 February 2020, buy tickets here. 

Read Next