Claudio Rasano's Johannesburg schoolboy portrait wins Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016

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A portrait by the Swiss-Italian photographer Claudio Rasano has won the £15,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with an image from his series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare. Taken in February 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the project focuses on “preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms”, the artist says.
The winning photograph was shot in daylight, outdoors and in front of a plain, white, paper background. The sitter for this particular inkjet print is 18-year-old Katlehong Matsenen.
Rasano says: “Children themselves have been known to rebel against uniforms, especially as they approach the awkward age characterised by the need to fit in and the desire to stand out, all at the same time. Some experts too have spoken against school uniforms on the grounds that they suppress individuality and diversity.”
Rasano was born in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland. His work has been included in numerous international exhibitions and previously featured in the Taylor Wessing Prize in 2011 and 2013.
Second prize went to Joni Sternbach for her portrait of surfers Thea Adler and Maxwell Schultz and third prize to Kovi Konowiecki for his photographs of Shimi Beitar Illit and Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit, part of a series of inkjet prints portraying Orthodox Jews from around the world. The John Kobal New Work Award, worth £5,000, was won by Josh Redman for his portrait, Frances.
The prize-winning photographs and those selected for inclusion in the exhibition were chosen from 4303 submissions entered by 1842 photographers from 61 countries.
Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, says: “My congratulations to Claudio Rasano for his winning portrait of schoolboy Katlehong Matsenen, taken in Johannesburg earlier this year. The quality and diversity of both this year’s shortlist and exhibition are a testament to the engaging work being produced by international photographers. Each and every photographer who entered has contributed their part to the debate and evolution of contemporary portrait photography.
Second prize: Joni Sternbach for 16.02.20 #1 Thea+Maxwell from the series Surfland

16.02.20 #1 Thea+Maxwell, from the series Surfland © Joni Sternbach.
American artist Joni Sternbach was born in the Bronx, New York and is a visiting artist at Cooper Union School of Art, faculty member at the International Centre of Photography and the Penumbra Foundation in New York, where she teaches wet plate collodion. Sternbach uses early photographic processes to create contemporary landscapes and environmental portraits, centring on man’s relationship to water.
Her series Surfland, features large-format tintype portraits of surfers. Her prize-winning portrait was taken in February 2016 at Davenport Landing, Santa Cruz, California, USA.
Sternbach says: “For me, this photograph represents many of the challenging aspects of creating a portrait. I was in an entirely new location and faced with people I’d never met before. In this spectacular environment, I aimed to create a dynamic complexity within the picture that was both unique to that person and also understandable to others.”
Third prize: Kovi Konowiecki for Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein
Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein © Kovi Konowiecki.
American artist Kovi Konowiecki was born and raised in Long Beach, California. After pursuing a professional career in football, Konowiecki is in the final stages of an MA in photography at the University of the Arts, London.
The photographs of Shimi Beitar Illit and Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit are part of a series of inkjet prints that portray Orthodox Jews from around the world. The colours and floral background create a painting-like quality, highlighting their association with a history that many may find unfamiliar.
Konowiecki explains: “˜When I set out to photograph the faces of Orthodox Jews around the world, it was an attempt to both strengthen my ties to my family’s history and shed light on the traditions of a people that seem strange to modern society.
“The project started with me contacting members of the Jewish community where I grew up, and evolved into travels across the world to capture Orthodox Jews who, although they live thousands of miles apart, are bound together by history, tradition and a set of values that serve as the cornerstone of the lives of many who live in today’s society.”
John Kobal New Work Award: Josh Redman for Frances
Frances © Josh Redman.
The £5,000 John Kobal New Work Award has been awarded to Josh Redman for his photograph Frances, from an ongoing series of pared-down studio portraits.
Redman says: “This was Francesa’s first serious photo shoot, and it’s an honour to have been part of her initiation into modelling at age 83. During the three-hour sitting we chatted over pastries about her late husband, the Second World War, her lifelong job as a typist and her daughter Tineka.”
Born in the UK in 1984, Redman was a sculptor and potter until 2012 when he decided to sell his kiln, buy a camera and move to London. Since then he has worked as a freelance photographer, winning the AOP Assistant Award in 2014, and has been commissioned by Adidas, Sky TV and the British Museum amongst others.
The John Kobal New Work Award is given to a photographer under the age of 35 whose work has been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. The winner receives a cash prize of £5,000, part of which must be used to undertake a commission to photograph a sitter connected with the UK film industry for the Gallery’s collection.
The competition was judged from original prints by the National Portrait Gallery’s Cullinan; Phillip Prodger, head of photographs, NPG; Christiane Monarchi, editor of Photomonitor; Nadav Kander, photographer; and Tim Eyles, managing partner, Taylor Wessing.
The winning portraits will be on display as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 exhibition from 17 November 2016 to 26 February 2017.
More information here.