The Taylor Wessing Prize never fails to initiate a discussion about what makes a good photographic portrait, especially as the submissions are judged anonymously without consideration of the background or experience level of the photographer.
© Jordi Ruiz Cirera
This year’s four finalists are as disparate as you might expect from such an inclusive competition - a recent photography graduate, celebrity photographer, photojournalist and emerging amateur.
The winner will be announced on November 5 2012. An exhibition featuring the best 60 portraits, picked out from 5,340 submissions, will follow at the National Portrait Gallery.
In the running is recent graduate Alma Haser, whose entry, The Ventriloquist, was taken in her shared house in South London, capturing friends Luke and James, who have known each other since they were 12.
Struck by their hairstyles, Haser initially planned to take separate portraits. But it was difficult to get them to concentrate, so she decided to photograph them together.
“I asked them to sit on a tiny, wobbly coffee table, forcing them to almost cling onto each other,” she says.
“Ultimately I wanted to turn their verbal banter into a visual image. The title is designed to help viewers make up their own stories about what is going on.”
Rivalling Haser for the prize is Spencer Murphy, whose work has been exhibited six times as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.
© Spencer Murphy
This year it’s his shot of Mark Rylance, commissioned for the cover of the Telegraph Magazine, which makes the shortlist.
Murphy says he especially enjoys working with actors as “there’s no awkwardness or discomfort in front of the camera" and "they are able to understand direction and react to it very easily”.
Jennifer Pattison has spent her working life as a photographic agent and producer, but recently decided to concentrate on building her own photography career.
Her portrait of friend Lynne was taken in the empty bedroom of a derelict house in Brighton as part of a series of naked portraits and landscapes.
“There is an interesting shift in the consciousness of the sitter during the slow process of making these portraits," she says.
"It's a moment in the quiet where they become unaware that they are naked.
“I capture them as they drift to another place. With no direction, Lynne adopted this straightforward pose, bare and undaunted, looking straight down the lens and beyond.”
Photojournalist Jordi Ruiz Cirera gains his place in the final four with his portrait of Maria, a Mennonite from the Swift Current Colony in Bolivia - part of his long term project portraying the daily life of this community.
“Sitting in front of the camera was not easy for Maria,” he explains.
“Photography is forbidden for Mennonites and having her direct portrait taken was quite difficult, so I could only take two frames of her.
"Even though we were enjoying the situation, Maria posed with this sort of awkward expression.”
- The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 exhibition will open at National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 2012 – 17 Feb 2013.
© Jennifer Pattison
© Alma Haser