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César Dezfuli, Amadou Sumaila, 2016 | © César Dezfuli
César Dezfuli, Amadou Sumaila, 2016 | © César Dezfuli
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Portrait of Rescued Migrant Wins Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 1 December 2017
Spanish photojournalist César Dezfuli has won this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize for his striking and evocative photograph of a sixteen-year-old migrant from Mali.

Since 1993, the international competition held at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has supported and celebrated portrait photography by professionals, amateurs and emerging artists. Celebrating its tenth year of sponsorship by Taylor Wessing, there are pertinent themes running through this year’s award exhibition, most topically, displacement.

Twenty nautical miles off the Libyan coast, Amadou Sumaila was rescued in the Mediterranean Sea before being transferred to a centre in Italy. It was on board an NGO vessel where Dezfuli was documenting the search and rescue of migrants who were fleeing war and persecution, that he took his arresting winning image.

César Dezfuli, Amadou Sumaila, 2016
César Dezfuli, Amadou Sumaila, 2016 | © César Dezfuli

Although born in Madrid, Dezfuli is of Persian descent and issues of migration and identity have preoccupied the freelance documentary photographer’s practice.

‘I think Amadou’s portrait stands out because of the emotions it transmits,’ said the award-winning photographer. ‘He has just been rescued by a European vessel, apparently fulfilling his dreams. However, his look and his attitude show fear, mistrust and uncertainty, as well as determination and strength.’

Abbie Trayler-Smith, Fleeing Mosul, 2016
Abbie Trayler-Smith, Fleeing Mosul, 2016 | © Abbie Trayler-Smith

Poetic, ethereal and haunting, Abbie Trayler-Smith’s portrait of a young woman on board a convoy of buses in northern Iraq won her the second prize.

Focusing on women’s rights and the devastation of conflict, the portrait forms part of the documentary and portrait photographer’s Women in War: Life After ISIS series. Along with Dezfuli’s winning image, it conveys a universal epidemic with reflective respect that might seem like a million miles away when you stand in front of it at the NPG, but is made ever more apparent through its powerful intent.

‘I just remember seeing her face looking out at the camp,’ says Trayler-Smith, and the shock and the bewilderment in hers and others’ faces and it made me shudder to imagine what living under ISIS had been like. To me the uncertainty in her face echoes the faces of people having to flee their homes around the world and references a global feeling of insecurity.’

Maija Tammi, One of Them Is a Human #1. Erica: Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project, 2016
Maija Tammi, One of Them Is a Human #1. Erica: Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project, 2016 | © Maija Tammi

Winner of both the third prize and the John Kobal New Work Award is Finnish artist, Maija Tammi for her portrait of a human-robot, Erica. Often working closely with scientists, Tammi, who has a background in photojournalism, explores the relationship between science and aesthetics, which is uncannily captured to perfection in her winning image.

Considering what it means to be alive in today’s climate of artificial intelligence programmes and virtual reality experiences, Tammi’s portrait comes from her ongoing series One of Them Is a Human #1.

‘I had half an hour with Erica and a young researcher in which to take the photograph,’ said Tammi. ‘The researcher told me that Erica had said that she finds Pokemon Go scarier than artificial intelligence.’

Anna Boyiazis, Kijini Primary School students learn to float, swim, and perform rescues in the Indian Ocean off of Mnyuni, Zanzibar, 2016
Anna Boyiazis, Kijini Primary School students learn to float, swim, and perform rescues in the Indian Ocean off of Mnyuni, Zanzibar, 2016 | © Anna Boyiazis

With over 5,717 submissions entered by 2,423 photographers from 66 countries, the exhibition of prize-winners and selected portraits captures a very poignant, vital and energetic portrait of today’s world.

Maybe only a snap shot, excuse the pun, and a mere glimpse, it gives us an unprecedented insight into all walks of life that is both heart breaking and heart warming.

In addition to the winners, here are just a few of our favourites from an un-missable show.

Nancy Newberry, The Sentinels Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings, 2016
Nancy Newberry, The Sentinels Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings, 2016 | © Nancy Newberry
Alejandro Cartagena, Daughter at the US-Mexico Wall Without walls, 2017
Alejandro Cartagena, Daughter at the US-Mexico Wall Without walls, 2017 | © Alejandro Cartagena
Charlie Clift, Football kids of Kolkata 10 Years of Premier Skills, 2016
Charlie Clift, Football kids of Kolkata 10 Years of Premier Skills, 2016 | © Charlie Clift
Harry Cory Wright, Maggi Hambling, 2016
Harry Cory Wright, Maggi Hambling, 2016 | © Harry Cory Wright

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE from November 16, 2017 until February 8, 2018. £6, concs £4.50.

Want to see more art in London? These are the best exhibitions to see in London this week