London Photographer wins International Prize

London-based photographer David Stewart was awarded the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize last night at a ceremony hosted by the National Portrait Gallery.

Stewart took home the prize along with £12,000 prize money for Five Girls, 2014, a portrait of his daughter and her friends eating sushi after their graduation. The photograph will be on display alongside the other 50 shortlisted images from 12th November to 21st February.

The National Portrait Gallery has been holding an annual photographic portrait gallery since 1993. The current incarnation, sponsored by Dutch international law firm Taylor Wessing, began in 2008. Entry is open to everyone aged 18 and over from all over the world, this year the gallery received 4,929 submissions from over 70 countries.

Since beginning, the photography prize has become an important fixture on the international photography scene. Speaking to the British Journal of Photography, the National Portrait Gallery’s director Dr. Nicholas Cullinan described the exhibition as a dynamic portrait of the world.

Stewart also sees the Taylor Wessing as “very important. It marks the image down historically and should bring my work to a wider audience.” This year’s prize was judged by a panel of curators, photographers and gallerists, including Cullinan, and Tim Eyles, the representative from Taylor Wessing.

Though the overall reaction to Stewart’s photograph has been positive, some gallery visitors are less impressed by the decision. Bob Peters, 46 from Clapham, said “As usual with modern art, the physical thing is irrelevant…if the photographer had said ‘It’s a picture of some girls having refreshments’ it wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Stewart says he is finding the press surrounding the image rather entertaining, “I didn’t know it would provoke such love and hate. [It’s] all good research for future projects.”

The win was a long time coming, this being the photographer’s 16th submission to the competition. He says he has participated so many times as a means of reflecting on all the portraits he has taken over the years, entering those he thought were the best. “I’m not allowed to enter for seven years now, so [I’ll] have to find another outlet.”

Stewart began his career in the late 1970’s photographing tourists on Morecambe beach as well as punk bands including The Clash and the Ramones before moving to London in 1981. Three years later he set up his own studio and has become one of the country’s most in demand photographers. He splits his time between personal photography projects and advertising commissions and received BAFTA nomination for his short film Cabbage.

The winning photograph was a reshoot of an earlier submission in 2008, Five Girls. The idea behind the image was an attempt to convey ideas of anti-social networking. The original image depicts his daughter and her friends sitting in a fast food restaurant just before starting their GCSE’s, whilst this year’s photograph show the same five women eight years later. The idea to create a mirror image came from Stewart’s daughter Alice, seen in the blue jumper.

The second prize went to a photograph of a baby boy by Anoush Abrar, third to a portrait of a woman in Oxford Street by Peter Zelewski and fourth to Ivor Prickett for his image of an Iraqi family. This year also introduces the inaugural In Focus portion of the exhibition, which will showcase new work by an internationally-renowned photographer. This year the chosen photographer is South African Pieter Hugo.