In Conversation – Taylor Wessing Exhibition

Sabina Jaskot-Gill in conversation with Christiane Monarchi and Kovi Konowiecki. 16th February 2017 7pm at the National Portrait Gallery.

I wanted to see this in conversation piece as I visited the exhibition [1] itself in December 2016.  So why did I want to attend this event?  I really enjoyed the exhibition and how it had been presented in quite a small space.  The variety of photographs and how they had been presented and the argument of what is a portrait, does it need to show a full face?  Can it be street photography, documentary, reportage or is a portrait purely an image where the subject or sitter has been posed in an environment controlled fully by the photographer to tell a story.  I also wanted to gleen some inside tips on how the judges approached the culling of 4,303 submitted images down to 100 for the show, was there a prescribed approach on what was acceptable, how were they filtered, categorised, were there any arguments during selection?

This was the first event of this kind that I had attended and being new to this and not wanting to miss out I was one of the first into the room and chose to sit at the front. The evening started at 7pm and the guests introduced by Sabrina Jaskot-Gill, Associate Curator of photography at the National Portrait Gallery.  Christiane Monarchi was one of the 6 panel judges and her experience is extensive (see link) [2], finally the 3rd place winner Kovi Konowiecki.


Entries are submitted in printed form, each photographer can submit up to 6 images.  The images are in plastic sleeves and presented to the judging panel initially with only the title of the image.  Photographer details and any back story are not available to the judging panel.  It took the judges 2 days to complete the initial screening and it was interesting to note that Christiane preferred a longer title than ‘John’ as it gave more insight into the image and provided them with a story albeit partial.

Important things to note are that image quality, clarity, presentation (use good quality sleeves) and print quality are of the utmost importance.   If the focus is not on the eye or the print quality has fallen apart at a larger size, the colours aren’t accurate (greens are apparently of a particular problem in digital printing and can break apart) then the image will fail.

When I first visited the show it did occur to me that for such a prestigious show and prize there were only 4,303 submissions.  Sabina mentioned this may be opened up to digital submissions for 2017 and Christiane commented she had read this online aswell.  It was worthy to note another point is that images are seen by the panel in the order they are submitted, so first come first served.

Think about scale, larger print formats will look different than smaller ones.  It was clear from the show that the larger images created a bigger impact and draw the view in, on that note this also means print and image quality can be examined in greater detail.

Christiane made reference to the story a few times in the evening, it was clear that when reviewing images what is implied can lead to a discussion in the panel, what does the image show, what message is being conveyed.  Images should be in a series, that series should tell a story and be consistent (my words).  Again Christiane made comment on submissions being of different sizes, and even printed on different  papers which did nit help.


To the left of the discussion panel was a very large screen in which the photographs of discussion points were displayed, the panel sat close together and each fitted with a microphone so they could be heard.  Sabine led the discussion well and with enthusiasm. I felt the overall presentation of the evening was well executed

I go back to quality for a moment, it was good to hear, but at the same time a little daunting, that Kovi had spent 2 whole weeks in the Printspace ensuring his images were perfect.  It was unclear as to how much this had cost overall but an important note for me to consider if I intend to submit images for this year’s completion and more importantly for my final year exhibition.

Kovi is Jewish and approached his local Rabbi in Long Beach as an inroad into the congregation, although initially they were hesitant Kovi was able to photograph the large extended family of the Rabbi.  His final image taken was of Shimi Beitar Illit [5]


Shimi, Beitar Illit, ‘Bei Mir Bistu Shein’   ©Kovi Konowiecki

in the hat and afterwards Kovi directed Shimi to set up a self portrait of Kovi wearing the hat which not very many people have seen apparently. This series is titled Being mir bisto shein which is yiddish, ‘To me you are beautiful’.

It was nice to also see another series of images created by Kovi titled Delivering Flowers to grandpa Jack[3]which were created in Long beach using natural light and during the golden hour, something we don’t get a lot of here in London recently. I’ve included the link but will research them later.

There were some images submitted that had clearly not been posed, instances in time that had been captured such as the family on a park bench in Regent’s Park by Sarah Lee [7] and the series by Sian Davey titled Martha[8].

sarah-lee_-seye-miah-elijah-and-alexander_twpppSeye, Miah, Elijah and Alexander. Regent’s Park 2016.                                                 ©Sarah Leesian-davey_martha-_twpppsian-davey_martha-twppp

Both images above  – Martha ©Sian Davey

We could also look at a portrait of Mike Tyson created by Albert Watson, this has been posed and Mike Tyson[4] has sat for the image, it’s a portrait but does not show his face.


Sleeping worker.  ©Etienne Malapert

An image also selected by the judges from Etienne Malapert shows an image captured of a sleeping worker[6].  Not posed (the worker is asleep) face is visible but it has been included as a portrait.  Could these candid images be documentary or even street photography and does a portrait need to be planned and posed? The panel seem to be open on the interpretation here.

My sincere thanks to Neil Evans at the National Portrait Gallery for his kind assistance in sending me a press pack.  Images kindly reproduced with permission and copyright remains as stated under each image.


[1]National Portrait Gallery – Taylor Wessing Exhibition.   – Accessed 16th February 2017

[2]National Portrait Gallery – In conversation with event. – Accessed 16th February 2017

[3] Delivering flowers to Grandpa Jack accessed 17th February 2017

[4] Mike Tyson by Albert Watson. accessed 19th February 2017.

[5] McClure, R. and Cullinnan, N. (2016) Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2016. United Kingdom: National Portrait Gallery Publications. Loving Konowiecki – Shimi Beitar Illit – May 2016 (McClure and Cullinnan, 2016, pp. 25–25

[6]McClure, R. and Cullinnan, N. (2016) Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2016. United Kingdom: National Portrait Gallery Publications. Note (pp. 33 – 33): Etienne Malapart – sleeping worker March 2015 page 33

[7] McClure, R. and Cullinnan, N. (2016) Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2016. United Kingdom: National Portrait Gallery Publications.(McClure and Cullinnan, 2016, pp. 35–35)Note Sarah Lee – Seye, Miah, Elijah and Alexander, Regents Park June 2016

[8] McClure, R. and Cullinnan, N. (2016) Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2016. United Kingdom: National Portrait Gallery Publications. McClure and Cullinnan, 2016,(McClure and Cullinnan, 2016, pp. 30–31): Sian Davey – Martha series


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