The Winner Takes All

5 November, 2008

Hurrah, at last a judging decision I can understand and agree with. This year’s National Portrait Gallery photographic portrait award [sponsored by Taylor Wessing] has been awarded to Lottie Davis for her work entitled Dream of Quintuplets Birth shown below:Lottie Davies' winning picture

Quintuplets is from an ongoing project called Memories and Nightmares. Drawing on her own childhood dreams and those of her friends, she refigures the stories within a studio setting, employing carefully choreographed props and models. Using digital technology, in this case to re-present the same baby as a quintet, Davies creates a fantasy scene.

Quintuplets has been likened to the work of Manet, specifically Olympia, and it is easy to see the visual references. The position of the nude, lying seductively on a bed, her gaze directed towards the viewer inviting us to look upon her and her nakedness, the casual nod to the maid through the black faced figurine are direct correlations to Manet’s painting. But there are also other references, the deep red fabrics of the brothel, the religious iconography of the Madonna and Child give a depth to this photograph that speak of an intelligence and deliberate reworking of our visual vocabulary. There is an integrity here, the composition, lighting and narrative all lead the viewer to consider what is within the frame and not what isn’t there.

Second prize went to Hendrik Kerstens for Bag (below), a wonderfully comic and beautifully realised portrait of Kerstens’s daughter wearing a plastic bag on her head, shot in a style again reminiscent of a famous painter, in this case Vermeer.Hendrik Kerstens' Bag (click to see larger)

In contrast to the complexity of Davies’ work, Kerstens gives us a portrait of calm and serenity. Through the use of carefully crafted lighting and a deep black background he enables us to almost imagine the plastic bag as a piece of lace and cotton. Once we have seen beyond the surreal headgear, our view is taken to the intensity of the sitter’s gaze upon us, her piecing eyes are slightly unnerving but not so intimidating that we can’t look back at her.

What thrills me about these two images and the fact that they have been recognised through the NPG award is that they are about the act of looking. They are both clever works, evoking our memories of previous art works, but even so, they have gone beyond mere homage. Like any good piece of art, they reward the viewer by giving us more, the more we look at them.

For further reading and reviews go to:

The Independent Review

The Times Review

One Response to “The Winner Takes All”

  1. Tony Says:

    Nicely done.

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