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Taylor Wessing Winners

Alys Tomlinson and Lydia Goldblatt, two Millennium contribitors are the 1st and 2nd prizes in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2020

Samuel, Jack and Jameela from the series Lost Summer 
by Alys Tomlinson

Alys Tomlinson began her project Lost Summer, just after lockdown restrictions were eased, in June 2020. The series comprises forty-four portraits of young people dressed to attend the highly anticipated school leaver’s prom night – events that were unable to take place in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tomlinson explains: ‘The school year ended abruptly, with no opportunity to say goodbye to friends and nothing to mark the occasion. I photographed teens all dressed up in what they would have worn to the prom’.

The photographer, who has an ongoing interest in exploring the transformative and self-aware teenage years, began by contacting families in her local area and working with friends of friends. She did not direct her participants’ dress and each portrait was made in what the sitter had planned to wear for their graduation event. Tomlinson works with film on a large format camera, a much slower process than shooting digitally and this became an important part of making the images: ‘you have to be patient working in this way…and I think using this camera shifts the relationship you have with the sitter. You have to take your time…A lot of the teenagers enjoyed learning about the process as they hadn’t really seen a camera like this before and its quite a performance…My hope was that it made them feel special for a small amount of time’.

There was also no casting involved so Tomlinson made a portrait of every person who responded to her request, scheduling an appointment to photograph them at their home without really knowing what the setting would be. The portraits were all taken outdoors so that gardens and parks became the backdrops against which each person posed. When seen in sequence, these natural backgrounds become something like an implied studio, visually unifying the series while also allowing the distinct personality and style of each sitter to emerge. She reflects: ‘I feel there is a vulnerability and sadness to the portraits but also a resilience…they represent a loss and longing but also celebrate each teenager as an individual navigating this extraordinary time’.

Alys Tomlinson studied photography at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design and an MA in Anthropology of Travel, Tourism and Pilgrimage at SOAS, University of London. She was selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition in 2017 and won the Sony World Photographer of the Year Award in 2018. Her work has been seen in numerous exhibitions in the UK and Europe, while Tomlinson’s book Ex-Voto, the culmination of a five-year photographic journey to Catholic pilgrimage sites in Ireland, Poland, and France, was published in 2019.

Judges’ comments

The judges felt that Alys Tomlinson’s portraits were very simple, but powerful images with a beautiful clarity. Without being heavy handed, they spoke to the events of 2020, including lockdown, and the generation most affected by them.

 

Eden from the series Fugue 
by Lydia Goldblatt

This is an image of the photographer’s daughter Eden, made as part of a larger series exploring themes of motherhood, intimacy and distance. In music, a fugue is a short melody that is repeated and developed by more than one line that can reappear as a recurring motif throughout a score. The word also refers to the psychological condition or episode of identity loss, often associated with a sudden departure from one’s usual environment.

Goldblatt made the portrait in her garden as Eden sits in a plastic seedling tent she has converted into self-contained space of her own. The larger series also includes portraits of Goldblatt’s partner and younger child. The narrative is ambiguous and weaves in and out of images of domestic tranquility as well as those conveying unease and tension, night streetscapes and views of empty playgrounds. All were made in close vicinity of the family home during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown in London, the photographer explains: ‘In making work about this time, I drew on my own small sphere, a radius of about 50 metres, 4 people, and a handful of streets. I am incredibly privileged to be able to do so. My home and my camera have both offered places of refuge and safety’.

Just before this unexpected and intense period of confinement, Goldblatt’s own mother had died and the series starts with a photograph of the family scattering her ashes. The project is a meditation on mothering her own children and a reflection on her own mother and her loss, but also the loss that so many people have experienced in the last year.

Of the portrait, Goldbatt says: ‘In such close, sometimes blissful, sometimes painful proximity to my children, I am aware of all that remains unknown between us. We are fused and separate, present and absent, elusive. I work on film [on a medium format camera], so the process too is blind and unknown – like the context, an invisible virus, marked by inaccessibility and intangibility’.

Lydia Goldblatt gained an MA in photography from the London College of Communication. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally in group and solo shows in the UK, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece, China and Malaysia.

Judges’ comments

The judges felt that Lydia Goldblatt’s portrait embodied the psychological complexity of the events of this year. The contrast between the attractive, suburban garden and the incongruous presence of the tent as a bubble presented wonderful layers and embodied what photography should be able to do.