The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize is an exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery and after being briefed last week for our Final Major Project I decided that going to see this exhibition would help me decide on which of my two ideas to pursue and develop for such a main body of work.
Previously I had been unable to go because of work commitments and also because people I asked said that the work there had a aesthetic deadpan look to it. I was stuck for inspiration so I went to see for myself anyway. to which I’m glad I did the difference in primary and secondary sources is incredible.
Studying the prints for myself I was stunned the quality of this work is outstanding. Seeing it in the gallery is so very different from seeing it in a magazine or on the internet it really makes such a difference being there in person.
All the prints have been chosen for their merit, technique and context and they really do stand out from the work that I’m used to seeing. For me the photograph above by Spencer Murphy for Mark Rylance was the “one”.
Something about this image transfixed me to the spot. The tone of the skin and the amazing green in the actor’s eyes literally had me staring at it for a good 10 minutes. There’s something about the sitter and the moment the photographer has captured there. I feel like I’ve intruded on a moment that shouldn’t be observed and I should look away. The model has this very vulnerable look about him that must have been quietly intimate to photograph.
Its perfect because this was what I was looking for to inspire my own project about feeling lost and being unsure of your own identity. The style of portraiture is a little soulless so to speak but I personally believe that’s why it works so successfully. When other human beings sense another person’s character like that you can’t help but feel something. Good or bad it speaks out to you and whether you like it or not the portrait does capture a quiet self reflection that most people can relate and sympathize with.
Spencer Murphy, born in 1978, grew up in Kent and studied at the Kent Institute of Art and Design before gaining a BA in Photography at the Falmouth College of Arts. His shortlisted portrait is of actor Mark Rylance and was commissioned for the cover of the Telegraph Magazine to mark the actor’s return to the Globe to play Richard III.
Murphy says, ‘I’ve always enjoyed working with actors as there’s no awkwardness or discomfort in front of the camera and they are able to understand direction and react to it very easily. Mark was no exception.’
The recipient of many awards and shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards in both 2010 and 2011, Murphy’s work has been exhibited internationally. His work has been exhibited as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize six times, although this is the first time he has been shortlisted.
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So for some time now I’ve been debating whether to ahead with doing such a personal project as part of my Final Major Project and linking the research for this with my contextual essay and vice versa.
I guess it started with being asked to come up with an artist statement. Who are we in terms of describing ourselves as an artist? Producing a statement with the deliberate intention of being observed and read by an audience. The idea began to intrigue me and I now feel like its something id like to explore in depth.
Every artist has questions about their existence and their place and position within a number of circles and a multitude of layers and depths. Specifically within the photographic industry there are a number of notable photographers and some less know who have used it as a therapy some more successful than others.
However there are consequences to revealing such personal work than you will be emotionally attached too out for the public to analysis and evaluate. I also feel that I may start the project then feel like not showing it because I have reservations about being so emotionally readable and open to strangers. In a way all portraits reveal something about the sitter and they really have no control over that which is why so many feel vulnerable and fear being in front of the camera.
If I really want to pursue this idea further I need to overcome my fear of being exposed and also to detach myself from the actual images in order to criticize them, as I would do with another body of work. Being able to make a decision without having emotional values clouding your judgment is actually very hard and some photographers just can’t do this which means bringing in other people such a editor to make the final cut or edit because they don’t have a bond like the creator does to the work allowing them to see more subjectively.
Another consideration is that because your work is so personal you may also not meet the criteria that you are marked with and this means having the possibility of receiving a low mark or even worse failing which is by no means a judgment of your life but what I personally view as a judgment on your ability to portray and communicate your emotions and views/life to the audience and giving them something to relate too.
I also feel that technically this will be a challenge as well dealing with more higher end equipment is hard enough but also having to stand in front of the camera instead of behind it will be creatively hard and you lose a massive amount of creative control by doing so. There is the option of having people to help but then is it really just your view then? By having someone around even if they make a tiny adjustment they’ve had an input. So instead of being a self-portrait and it just being your views and personal opinion you’ve got someone else’s view involved almost contaminating it slightly.
The idea became something I started to want to explore more in depth as I began to think about the choices that lead me to being here in the first place. The life I had that has influenced me and continues too as an artist/photographer. I think the past is important to many people but in particular to the creative industry many people borrow influences and base their projects about something that is part of their ‘being’ be it people, places, things, objects anything that triggers a emotional response from them. The idea is something that intrigues me. The fact that some many of us have formed into the people that we are today from our past and the sentimental value it has. It also interests me that many of us want to present to the public a version of ourselves that is beautiful, good, pleasant, and many other qualities. Very similar in fact to how we present ourselves, and our loved ones in a family album. The idea that the bad, isn’t documented, isn’t shown, doesn’t exist. The things we consider taboo and don’t want people seeing lest we are judged.
I think its quite interesting also to look at it as part of an ongoing thing, by revisiting the past I’m informing not just the public but also going to my roots and exploring things I have/had forgotten about and by doing so using this information to relate to my present and possibly the future as well. I believe to many artists that going back and seeing how far they’ve come from wherever the used to be is also incredible personal and almost can be a relief to see that they can change as well as the people places and surroundings they have encountered. Psychological wise also it is a tactic many use that in order to move on within your life you have to confront the issue that you have abandoned and overcome the obstacle in order to progress because in some way or other something or someone is holding you back. This can be anything or anyone, including in a number of cases you, or one’s self.
This leads on to my other idea about wanting to pursue the self. Psychologists believe that there are five key elements that make up the identity of the self.
With these five things all make up one individual and how the position themselves and the values they have not just on life but also on themselves. Which is doing some basic research begins at a very young age.
I’ve have reservations about pitching this idea and developing it and taking it on as my Final Major Project because very often people choose something personal and then portray it very poorly. Although the idea to me seems very valid I may yet not foresee problems with it and choosing something that is hard to judge. I also think that my concept skills may not be very adept at dealing with something that is so very open to public scrutiny.
I also feel that this idea may not fit in with what I want to do in terms of basing this project on my career aspirations. I do like portraiture but at the moment I haven’t really done any self-portraiture that is successfully engaging and that have a context and conceptual purpose or background. I feel that contextual and conceptual work is my weakest point and therefore taking on this idea and concept may not be the right thing to do at the moment in time. Especially with it being such a large body of work and worth so much in terms of wanting to progress further and passing this year to go on and complete the BA Hons top up year.
However saying that I feel that this project has enough questions for me to want to answer and certainly keep me busy for 3 months. I believe it would be worthwhile certainly talking the idea over and doing initial research in order to gain a better understanding if its something I would want to pursue in depth. I would also use this to explore my options more and through the initial experimentation stage would be able to consider if I would want it to be more fine art, which I feel this particular topic is, or change it to suit a more commercial based series and typically fashion/beauty based.
Overall I feel that this idea is more than capable of lasting and actively engaging me for 3 months. Also I believe that now would be the time to explore my options and perhaps venture into more fine art practices and look into something I didn’t consider before. And if not taking my fashion based work that I already have the basic skills for and using this idea but portraying it in a more commercial way that would be more accessible in terms of adding it to my artist identity and current work on my website. I also feel that although I need to hit the learning outcomes and create a body of work that people can relate to or question or even identity with rather than making the main focus and priority being successful.