Wednesday, November 15, 2017

César Dezfuli wins £15,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

Winner of the £15,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017
César Dezfuli being interviewed about his portrait of 16 year old Amadou Sumaila
It's extremely gratifying that the two photographs of refugees won the first and second prize in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Competition 2017 over the photograph of the android which to my mind was technically in breach of the rules of the competition and should have been eliminated.

I'm very much NOT a fan of competitions which change the rules after they have taken the money from those people who submit entries. It's just not fair or decent - and some might argue it's not legal either.

I'm actually going to split this post in two and deal with:
  • the first two prizes and the exhibition in this post
  • the entry which won third prize and the reason why, in my opinion, this was a clear breach of the rules - and what needs to happen to prevent this happening again in a post tomorrow. 
This aside.....

The competition had 5,717 submissions from 2,423 photographers living in 66 countries.  Those on the walls of the exhibition are as international as those submitting their photos for consideration by the jury.

The jury considering the entries has nothing other than the title to go on. All entries are anonymous as both the name of the photographer and the person who is portrayed. 

This year for the first time those entering work were allowed to submit digital entries for the first sift which will have much reduced expenses in relation to postage and packing for those living overseas. It also means that the jury can spend longer on those that make it through to the second sift.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017 - First Prize

Amadou Sumalia by César Dezfuli
From the series Passengers
Inkjet print, August 2016

The £15,000 prize went to César Dezfuli for his photograph of 16 year old Amadou Sumalia from Mali. He was later transferred to a reception centre in Italy.

It comes from his series of photos called "Passengers". This documented in 118 photographs (click the link to see other photographs in the series) about the migrants on a boat who came from Mali, Gambia, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Most will have been economic migrants fleeing poverty.

It was taken very shortly after Amadou had been rescued from the Mediterranean, 20 miles off the Libyan coast along with 100+ other men. When compared with the rest of the photographs taken it's clear why this one was selected for this competition.

César Dezfuli

  • Age: born in Madrid on 10 January 1991
  • Nationality: Spanish-Persian origins
  • Occupation: freelance journalist and documentary photographer - focuses on issues of migration, identity and human rights
  • Current home: Madrid
  • Education: graduated in journalism and audio-visual communication from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain followed by a postgraduate qualification in photojournalism. 
  • Previous appearances in this award: None
  • Website:
His work documenting human rights issues has been published in numerous magazines and has been seen in group exhibitions in 2017 including First Prize in the Head On Photo Festival 2017 Portrait Category, and awards at the International Photographer of the Year Awards and the Moscow Foto Awards.

César told me that he'd been working on a freelance basis, following a project to rescue people who were at risk in the Mediterranean as they try to reach Europe.
I think Amadou’s portrait stands out because of the emotions it transmits. He had just been rescued by a European vessel, apparently fulfilling his dream. However, his look and his attitude show fear, mistrust and uncertainty, as well as determination and strength.’

Judges Comments: 

Against the balance and precision of Dezfuli’s composition, the directness of Sumaila’s gaze is striking and unsettling. The portrait powerfully conveys his loss, solitude and determination.
My comments: It's much smaller than I imagined but amazingly arresting.

Second Prize

Winner of the £3,000 Second Prize 
Abbie Traylor with her award and her photograph Fleeing Mosul
From the series Women in war: Life after ISIS
Colour coupler print, November 2016
Abbie Trayler-Smith won the £3,000 Second Prize.  Abbie is a Documentary and Portrait Photographer who was working on an assignment for Oxfam when she took the photograph. She was at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people in northern Iraq when a convoy of buses had just arrived, bringing people to safety from the intense fighting in Mosul.
‘I remember seeing the shock and bewilderment in the woman’s face as she looked out at the camp from the window. It made me shudder to imagine what living under ISIS must have been like.’
Abbie told me that the woman is now in Baghdad with her husband.  Her family have returned to Mosul but her sister had both her legs blown off when their home was bombed in Mosul.
  • Age: born 20 May 1977
  • Nationality: born and raised in South Wales
  • Education: - 
  • Occupation: documentary and portrait photographer. Her work covers women’s rights, social development and the aftermath of conflict for national newspapers, charities and NGOs. She spent eight years as a photographer with The Daily Telegraph, covering world events such as the Darfur conflict, the Iraq war and the Asian tsunami, before deciding to go freelance in 2007. Her work has been seen in numerous publications and in group exhibitions and has also won awards
  • Current home: based in London
  • Clients: wide variety of clients including Time, The Sunday Times, The Independent Review, Marie-Claire, Tatler, Monocle, Vice, Oxfam, Save The Children, IRC, UNICEF, Sony and BBC worldwide.
  • Previous appearances in this award: The Big O, won 4th prize in The National Portrait Gallery’s 2010 Taylor Wessing Prize.
  • Website:

Abbie Trayler-Smith (b.1977) studied law at King’s College London. In her photographic career

Judges’ comments: 

The colour and texture of the portrait has a painterly quality, created by the mud-streaked glass through which the young woman is framed. Her haunting expression quietly suggests the unimaginable horrors of life under occupation.
My comments: I really liked this photo and hoped it would do well. The drips on the window of the bus seem to act as a metaphor for the situation at some many different levels.  Also while she is undoubtedly traumatised by her situation, there seemed to me to be a certain element of curiosity about what lay out the window which comes from being moved from where you have lived all your life.  Is it going to be any better?


One of the interesting things about the exhibition is how it has changed since both the Director of the NPG and the Curator of Photography have changed (following their respective retirements).

One of the first notes I made was "no twins and no gingers". I think I'd begun to assume these were perennial features of photographic competitions - but obviously not.

There's a very powerful wall about the America of 2016/17 which was excellent which I am now euphemistically referring to as the "portrait of America". The two photos either end of the left hand wall are of the "wall" between Mexico and the USA. Inbetween are photographs of the American election.  On the right are two photographs of individuals with iconic emblems of the 'real American'.

Portrait of America
Alan Mozes followed the campaign trail for two months at the end for Vanity Fair and his portraits of both Clinton and Obama made the cut.

Alan Mozes with his portraits of Clinton and Obama

Alice Schoolcraft graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Photographic Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Westminster in London. She is half Swedish and half American and went to stay with her (never met before) American family and found that their values and activities were very different from those she has been brought up with. She photographed some of the curious things they got up to and called the series The Other Side.
Curiosity about people’s personal lives is a driving force in my work and by employing detailed study I want to provide the viewer with the feeling that they know the people in my photographs personally without ever having met them.
Halo by Alice Schoolcraftinkjet print
The dog is wearing a necklace and is standing behind a chair which has a dress on it
Somebody is behind the dog and has put their hands through the arms of the dress
There are also very few celebrities this year - of the bling variety. Instead we have artists as subjects - Jack Vettriano (who was at the preview this morning), Maggi Hambling and AA Gill who has subsequently died.  Plus one of David Cameron looking fairly harassed a few days before the Referendum result - and his resignation.

Jack Vettriano (on the right) in front of the photo portrait of him
by Ian Mcilgorm (on the left)
David Cameron adjusting his tie prior to his formal portrait photo by Charles Bibby
Young people and what they get up seemed to be a recurrent theme of this year's exhibition. The exhibition also felt rather more international than it has hitherto.

Young people around the world
More young people from around the world

Four boys who feature in one of the portrait photos (top left)
Minecrafting by Hania Farrell - which is actually two portraits in one

Judging Panel

This year’s judging panel was
  • Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair (Director, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • David Campany (Writer, Curator and Artist); 
  • Tim Eyles, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing LLP; 
  • Sabina Jaskot-Gill (Associate Curator, Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • Fiona Shields (Head of Photography, The Guardian) and 
  • Gillian Wearing (Artist.)

More about the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

The posts below contain images of past prizewinning portraits.

1 comment:

  1. The photo of the ginger friends (+cat) from a few years ago remains one of my favourites; I feel slightly upset it was apparently a cliche! Thanks for the summary of the exhibition and I look forward to seeing it soon, especially as an entrant who didn't get past the first round.


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