Face of South Sudan, by Melanie Faith Dove. Digital Print. Thanks to NPG for permission to publish
I was a little disappointed by the National Photographic Portrait prize. The hung pics, shortlisted from 1,200 entries, are now on display in the National Portrait Gallery. I was musing over how to judge these pics. These are just photos and I’ve said before that I consider photography a pretty minor art. I thought about which touched me; which seemed indulgent or touching or pretentious or humane; which seemed technically accomplished (I enjoy doing photography and I treated it rather seriously in the past, doing darkroom work and studying Ansel Adams and zone theory and composition). The winners didn’t do it for me. I was annoyed by a few pics: Reg Mombassa and his cat called Puss (what else?) (Reg / James Blackwood) and Rowan Atkinson in serious pose with some comment that he’s not really like Mr Bean and he likes cars (Bean no more / Quentin Jones). These both struck me as pretentious. I enjoyed the structure of the pic of Burt Bacharach although it seemed strangely devoid of personality (What the world needs now is love / Jeremy Shaw). A few other celebrities did nothing for me. Perhaps they are too used to the camera in their faces or too ready to enjoy it. I understood something from the homeless couple in a park with a tent (Rob and Kayla / Tom Psomotrogas). I despaired how anyone could make serious reference to the gutwrenching photo “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon” with a cute girl and Banksy graffito (Confronted / Tim Tam). I liked the pouting young daughter with a face of hair (Birds’ nests / Rewa Nolan) and the daughter’s creation of ornate Victorian clothing modelled by the other sister (The living room / Janet Tavener) and the kids who recreated circus characters (Les enfants du Paradis / Tracey Schramm). I respected another family story, of the father and retired NSW policeman on location in the Blue Mountains (Retired mounted policeman / Paul Mallam). These are personal and honest and each seemed to me to tell a true story. I very much liked the grannies seated in a row (Granny’s 90th / Katherine Bennett). I would have dreamed of taking that photo. I quite liked the feeding Aboriginal mother (Becky feeding Hazel / Louise Allerton) and the comfortable old couple next to her (Ivan and Lillian / Margot Sharman). I was touched by another young mother with a child in hospital (Katie and Jaylen Cornish / Morganna Magee). I admired the sharpness and colour of the channel swimmer (Wyatt / Daniel Arnaldi) and also the large portrait of a black man (Redfern, I love you – Alan / Ben Lawrence). I felt uncomfortable with one man, eyeless due to reflections on his glasses (Hamish Ta-mé / Dennis del Favero) but I enjoyed the story and the now-other-worldly feel of the morse coder (Morse coder / Richard Goodwin). But I gave it to the photo of Agnes (Face of South Sudan / Melanie Faith Dove). It’s a big and sharp portrait of a striking face, in profile, all glowing black skin and clean white background with a single, unobtrusive gold earring. Great pic. That’s my winner. Perhaps I should declare conflicts of interest: I prefer dogs and never laughed at Mr Bean. And one last thing. I was disappointed by the (not unreflective) glass over every pic. They don’t cover paintings that are unique; why cover photos that can be reproduced? I’m waiting on permission to use a pic, so in the meantime just follow the links below.