Every year thousands of hopeful photographers enter a prestigious portrait competition. It is called the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. But every year, thousands of photographers’ works go unselected. Fortunately, there exists a rogue venture at which hundreds of these jilted shooters will find the limelight. Portrait Salon showcases the Taylor Wessing Prize’s rejects. It’s unofficial, community-spirited and very cheeky.
Sure, photography is about chasing elusive shots and about improving your craft, but it’s not solely about competition and awards. Photography should not be a zero-sum game; just because someone gains doesn’t mean another has to lose. In celebrating as many photographs as it is physically possible to fit into their gallery space, Portrait Salon ignites the fell-good-factor and applauds far more photographers than the traditional structures even dare. That’s why, for Vantage, Portrait Salon is a “Best Of” in 2015.
Portrait Salon was founded, in 2011, by Carole Evans and James O Jenkins. Inspired by the provocative, 19th century Salon des Refusés — exhibitions of works rejected from grand juried art shows — Portrait Salon was initiated as a direct response to the ever-expanding Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, one of the biggest awards in the photography. (Vantage highlighted the 2015 Wessing winners in November). As well as 5-figure cash prizes, the Wessing puts 60 chosen works into a traveling exhibit that starts in London’s National Portrait Gallery.
Of course, with more and more entrants to Wessing, there were more and more rejects. On this its fifth year, Portrait Salon was able to exhibit more photographers than ever before. Of the 4,000+ Wessing rejects, over 1,200 submitted their work to Portrait Salon and 400 of those made it on to the walls of the Embassy Tea Gallery in London, in November.
Furthermore, in February 2016, the Portrait Salon selection will travel to The Reminders Photography Stronghold Gallery in Tokyo where it will be part of a project called I/Land in association with Miniclick and photography curator and editor Yumi Goto.
Despite Portrait Salon’s quick and dirty methods, and despite its DIY never-say-die bravado, it’s not merely a petulant f$@k y*u to the establishment. It’s more a gentle reminder that big prizes don’t serve the majority. If paying for (and, in the case of Wessing, making and shipping an actual print!) is like buying a lottery ticket then Portrait Salon gives you a second shot at the win. And the odds are more favorable too.
Portrait Salon’s friendly commitment to demystifying and debating the prize culture in contemporary photography is perhaps no better exemplified by the interview with Phillip Prodger in the newsprint publication that accompanies this years Portrait Salon exhibition. Prodger is the Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, the very institution that hosts the Wessing Prize. Portrait Salon looks to make allies not enemies. It complements the Wessing. There’s a symbiosis here that photographers and audiences appreciate.
During the show, visitors voted for their favorite three portraits. 570 votes were collected. Alan Powdrill came in first with portrait of a lady with red hair (top). In second was, Julia Fullerton-Batten with a dark and fantastical tableau (above). Phil Sharp’s B&W portrait of a young man (above) grabbed third and Matt MacPake’s portrait of John working in front of a screen in a small office (below) came in fourth.
The five other works shown below were selected by Evans and Jenkins to share with Vantage readers — some of the organizers’ faves!
“Usually we show the best of the rest. This year we want to show all of the rest,” says Jenkins.