Alice Mann wins the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Alice Mann has won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2018 with a set of four images of South African drum majorettes – the first time the award has gone to a series not a single shot.

Mann’s photographs show five young girls from Cape Town dressed as ‘drummies’ – a popular hobby for children from some of South Africa’s most disadvantaged communities. Mann, who is now based in London but originally from South Africa, spent three months photographing drum majorettes, and says her winning portraits come from a much larger series.

“The images are part of a much larger body of work, which is a combination of a more documentary approach and portraits,” she explains. “These four portraits are some of my favourite images, especially the one of Riley and Wakiesha because they are so charismatic.

“For these girls, involvement in ‘drummies’ becomes a vehicle for them to excel, and the distinctive uniforms serve as a visual marker of perceived success and represents emancipation from their surroundings. Continuing my consideration into notions of femininity and empowerment in modern society, it was my intent to create images that reflect the pride and confidence the girls achieve through identifying as ‘drummies’.”

Taylim Prince is a grade 6 pupil, and one of the more senior members, who has been part of the drum majorettes team for 5 years. From the series Drummies by Alice Mann © Alice Mann

Mann wins £15,000, and her work will now be shown in London’s National Portrait Gallery in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition from 18 October 2018 to 27 January 2019. The images in Taylor Wessing prize are judged anonymously, and this year Mann’s work was picked out from a total of 1,973 by a judging panel comprised of: photographer Miles Aldridge; Sabina Jaskot-Gill, curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London; Renée Mussai, senior curator of Autograph ABP; Sophie Wright, global cultural director of Magnum Photos; and Shane Gleghorn, managing partner of Taylor Wessing law firm. The chair was Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

“Mann’s series is consistent in its evocation of a sustained and intriguing narrative,” stated the judges. “Each sitter is precisely framed within a carefully considered composition, and the girls confidently meet the camera’s gaze. Their pristine and vibrant outfits jar with the rundown surroundings, lending a surreal and enigmatic atmosphere to the portraits.”

The £3000 second prize went to Enda Bowe for his photograph of a mother and baby, taken from an ongoing project with Gillian O’Brien titled Clapton Blossom. The third prize was jointly awarded to Joey Lawrence and Max Barstow, who win £2000 each.

“The series focuses on finding the colour and beauty in the urban, the light in the grey,” says Enda Bowe of his project, which is shot on a housing estate in Clapton, East London. “At the centre of the housing estate where this project was made stands a huge cherry blossom tree, the unifying heart of the estate. The beauty of the blossom, symbolising hope, optimism and new beginnings connects the people within the project together.”

Joey Lawrence’s image was taken from a project commissioned by WaterAid, and was shot in Tombohuaun [which translates as ‘Tombo’s Wound’], a remote village tucked into the jungle of Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province, which is struggling with water-borne illnesses. “Rather than just creating images that underscored Tombohuaun’s plight, WaterAid and I envisioned a portrait study of the community that would highlight its resilience, its fraternity, its highly organised structure, and its work ethic,” says Lawrence. “These are all the traits that will enable the village to thrive and sustain its clean water resources and practices long after the NGO has completed its work.”

Portrait of ‘Strong’ Joe Smart from the series Tombo’s Wound by Joey Lawrence 2017 © Joey Lawrence

Max Barstow’s image shows two women, shot on a busy shopping street in central London. The image comes from his series Londoners and in it, he says, his aim has been to “make unposed portraits with the intensity of images made by great studio photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn”.

“The photograph selected is a strongly composed and graphically-arresting image,” he adds. “It freezes a pair of friends shopping in the flow of a busy summer Sunday afternoon in the centre of London. I believe the image is peculiarly interesting as a portrait in that it was taken swiftly in the middle of a crowd of passers-by – it is, unusually, both a formally successful portrait with a classic studio-aesthetic and a street photograph in the broad idiom of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand.”

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition will also include previously unseen prints from a new body of work by Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. Kawauchi’s work will be the fourth In Focus display, an annual showcase for new work by an internationally renowned photographer, held alongside the photographic portrait prize. Best-known for her books Hanako (a documentary of a young girl of the same name), Hanabi (which translates as ‘fireworks’) and Utatane (a Japanese word that describes the state between wakefulness and sleep, the Japanese photographer was shortlisted for the 2012 Deutsche Börse photography prize.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2018 is on show from 18 October 2018 – 27 January 2019. Entry costs £6 with donation

Wakiesha Titus and Riley Van Harte are two of the younger girls in the team. Their coach, Kayleen says it’s better if the girls start younger as being a part of the team improves their ability to concentrate, improving their perfomance in the classroom which gives them a head start. From the series Drummies by Alice Mann © Alice Mann
Tanique Williams is one of the youngest girls in the Hottentots Holland team. She is in her first year at high school, so is also new to the team. She’s not new to drummies though, as she was a Helderkruin drummi through Primary school, which has given her a very good foundation which will help her learn her new team’s distinctive style quickly. From the series Drummies by Alice Mann © Alice Mann
Cybil McAddy with daughter Lulu from the series Clapton Blossom by Enda Bowe 2018 © Enda Bowe
Untitled from the series Londoners by Max Barstow 2017 © Max Barstow
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy