Tony Blair # 1 from the series Tony Blair by Kalpesh Lathigra © Kalpesh Lathigra
The above portrait of Tony Blair, from June 2010, seems to tell us more about the former Prime Minster’s current state than any number of words could. He looks haggard, battle worn and manic. A man disillusioned, some might say; a fallen Mayor of Casterbridge for our very own 21st century. Where formerly there was passion, now there seems only to be a kind of maddened desperation in his eyes.
This striking image didn’t, however, win the 2010 Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize and the £12,000 award that goes with it. That honour went to David Chancellor’s extraordinary photograph of a young American huntress, “Huntress with Buck”.
Huntress with Buck from the series ‘Hunters’ by David Chancellor © David Chancellor
It shows 14 year old Josie Slaughter, taken by her parents to South Africa to hunt for big game. The high contrast between the beauty of the auburn hair of girl, buck and horse and the African light on the plain, with the underlying brutality of the image is both visually arresting and narratively compelling, almost forcing the viewer to demand to know more about the picture’s context. Taken in July 2010, with vivid medium contrast Kodak 160VC 120 film, it forms part of Chancellor’s series of photographs Hunters and is featured on the front cover of this month’s British Journal of Photography.
There are, however, more irreverent pleasures to be found within this exhibition, such as Jonathan Root’s tender portrait of David Hockney in his Yorkshire studio, “David and Ruby”. Hockney stands, cigarette held aloft, in a paint flecked pinstripe suit, a daffodil resplendent in his lapel. His dog, Ruby, looks placidly on. It seems to say, “Take me or leave me; I really couldn’t care less”, and gives us the artist in all his smoky, well-tailored but, nevertheless, scruffy splendor. It’s a stark and lively contrast to the austere, almost statuesque nature of Lathigra’s Blair.
And then there is Iranian-born photographer Ramin Talaie’s superb “Haitian Women”, taken in February 2010 in Haiti, showing an elderly earthquake survivor, scarred but still smiling. Talaie’s photograph is a powerful visual testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit; the solitary women in Holbein red stands tall and proud, grasping a tree trunk with one hand, seemingly holding it up rather than being supported by it.
The international scope, searingly high quality of the selected photographs and constant journeys in terms of theme and subject, from the political to the personal, from the downtrodden to the great and the good, all serve to make this a fine exhibition and a timely reminder of the fecundity of the British photographic scene.
Until 20th February 2011