This year’s Taylor Wessing Photography Prize at the National Portrait Gallery features revealing portraits of famous faces, including actor Benedict Cumberbatch and American President Barack Obama. The winning portrait however, Five Girls 2014 by David Stewart, is one of the more low-key entries. Despite a lack of a celebrity sitter, it is without a doubt the most intriguing portrait of all.
Five Girls 2014, an image of the photographer's daughter and her friends captures every stitch of the matching ‘top-shop-jumper’ generation. The joy is in the detail (a studded bracelet nestles on the same wrist as a baby pink hair tie) and the intensely faked, vacant expression of each girl's face. Accurately describing today’s phone-reliant teenagers, mobiles are close at hand. Each of the sitters is determinedly posing, acknowledging the role of the photographer, and yet they fail to connect. Taylor's clever, if ever so frustrating trick, dooms the viewer to continuously attempt interaction with his five subjects; an impossible feat.
The highly staged props and background scene deliver yet another blow: why are there only three take-away coffee cups when there are five girls? Why are all five girls sitting on one side of the table? Where are they even supposed to be, for that matter? These staged inconsistencies become niggling questions for the viewer; meaning Five Girls 2014 lingers long after it is seen.
Stewart was awarded £12,000 for his image, with Hector by Anoush Abrar coming in second (wholly deservedly, for the unbelievably adult look captured on Hector’s face). In third place, Nayeueth by Peter Zelewski, and fourth place Amira and her children by Ivor Prickett. Also of particular note is the winner of the £5,000 John Kobal New Work Award, Tereza Cervenova, an incredibly prolific young photographer who has already received a D&AD Yellow Pencil despite only graduating from her BA last year - one to look out for.