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Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, National Portrait Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, National Portrait Gallery

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, National Portrait Gallery

The judges have sifted through thousands of entries from across the world: we get a photographer's verdict on this year's competition

First Prize: Katlehong Matsenen by Claudio Rasano, 2016Claudio Rasano, 2016

It’s that time of year again. The National Portrait Gallery exhibits the finalists in the annual Taylor Wessing Portrait prize. The judges have seen 4,303 photographs from 1,842 photographers and now show us 57.

The imprimatur of the National Portrait Gallery means that this is a really significant show. Entries come from all over the world and the quality of image and reproduction is second to none. As seen through the eyes of the exhibitors, life is a pretty serious business. Here are images of hardship, endurance, duty and emptiness. Not many smiles, unless you count Nigel Farage, hidden behind his cigar.

Becky, June and Mom (birds)  by Jessica Todd Harper  ©Jessica Todd HarperOne of the features of the show is Cristina de Middel’s project Gentleman’s Club, which portrays men who visit prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The sitters answered an advertisement in a Rio newspaper. To get the images de Middel rented a room for 30 minutes and paid the men for their "services".

There are other series informed by their context. The Black Mamba anti-poaching unit – serious women who patrol in camouflage in the Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa, and twins from a small village in southern India which has the highest rate of twin births in the world.

But my favourite images communicate in their own terms (pictured above: Becky, June and Mom (birds), by Jessica Todd Harper). I was not initially convinced by the winner, a portrait by Claudio Rasano of a South African schoolboy (main picture). When I saw it online it struck me as a nice shot, but viewed large in the gallery you can see what the judges saw – the beauty in the everyday. The image is straightforward, using conventional printing, but for me at least it opened a door into another world.

The images are all immaculately printed using a variety of techniques, which are briefly explained. But I would have liked to know who printed them. The photographers get a name check, as you would expect, but the unsung heroes of the print studio remain anonymous. Also, at least for photoheads like me, it would be good to have some technical information – type of camera, exposure, lighting etc.

But these are minor issues, and there is too much talk about photography anyway. Go and look at the pictures and see what the best in the world looks like.

Click on the thumbnails to see more portraits from the competition

When I saw it online it struck me as a nice shot, but viewed large in the gallery you can see what the judges saw

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