Tracy Calder

With so few mo­ments of gen­uine hap­pi­ness cap­tured by en­trants to the Tay­lor Wess­ing Pho­to­graphic Por­trait Prize, isn’t it time we all re­ceived a bit of cheer­ing up?

Amateur Photographer - - 7 Days - Tracy Calder has more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the photo mag­a­zine in­dus­try. She is the co-founder of Closeup Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year, visit

They say a smile costs noth­ing, but it seems a frown can earn you £15,000 – that’s what it feels like any­way, when I look at work sub­mit­ted to the Tay­lor Wess­ing Pho­to­graphic Por­trait Prize. I’ve made an an­nual pil­grim­age to the ex­hi­bi­tion since I was a teenager (back then it was known as the John Kobal Pho­to­graphic Por­trait Award), and while the spon­sor may have changed over the years the con­tent of the pic­tures re­mains just as bleak. In 1998 Tom Hunter took the top spot with his cheer­less, al­beit beau­ti­ful, por­trait ‘Woman Read­ing a Pos­ses­sion Or­der’. I re­mem­ber rav­ing about its painterly qual­ity and ex­quis­ite light­ing (I was a stu­dent at the time, af­ter all). The year be­fore that Richard Saw­don Smith wowed the judges with his shot of Si­mon, an ex-boyfriend who was suf­fer­ing from AIDS. The im­age is shock­ing, pow­er­ful and sen­si­tively ex­e­cuted, but it’s not uplift­ing. Drinks com­pany Sch­weppes backed the com­pe­ti­tion next, and hav­ing seen the 2004 ex­hi­bi­tion Joanna Pit­man of The

Times asked, Just‘ how mis­er­able is our world?’ Pretty mis­er­able it seems.

In 2007 law firm Tay­lor Wess­ing took over spon­sor­ship of the com­pe­ti­tion, but the gloomi­ness re­mained. Lot­tie Davies was the win­ner in 2008 with her clever, but dis­con­cert­ing, im­age ‘Quints’: a recre­ation of a friend’s night­mare in which she be­comes the mother of five children.

All of the afore­men­tioned pic­tures are re­mark­able in their own way, but some­times it feels as though the pho­tog­ra­phers are try­ing too hard to prove that pho­tog­ra­phy is ‘real’ art. It is art, there’s noth­ing to prove. Twenty years ago I en­joyed look­ing at pic­tures of sulky teenagers and pale-skinned twins. In fact, I raved about how great the com­pe­ti­tion was in this very mag­a­zine. But now I’m in my 40s, and I just want cheer­ing up (and for choco­late bars to stop get­ting smaller). Is that too much to ask? A few months ago I re­ceived a book show­cas­ing some 200 en­tries from the Por­trait of Bri­tain com­pe­ti­tion run by Bri­tish Jour­nal of

Pho­tog­ra­phy, and I have to say I was im­pressed. There was a smat­ter­ing of sulky teens and miffed-look­ing twins, but on the whole the por­traits were life-af­firm­ing, and very real (to be fair, a few of them also ap­pear in the Tay­lor Wess­ing ex­hi­bi­tion). Take, for ex­am­ple, Tom Old­ham’s im­age ‘Son 2’ which shows a young boy gaz­ing out of a car win­dow, or Fiona John­son’s por­trait ‘A Sun­day Morn­ing Swim’ of Si­mon, the open water swim­mer, cap­tured af­ter a dip – Si­mon is ac­tu­ally smil­ing!

Now I’m not say­ing ev­ery­one should be beam­ing away like the Cheshire cat – some of the in­di­vid­u­als in these pho­to­graphs are go­ing through in­cred­i­ble hard­ships – all I’m ask­ing for is bal­ance. Maybe it’s time to seek out joy and make a real ef­fort to share it.

Nat­u­rally, I will be go­ing to the Tay­lor Wess­ing Pho­to­graphic Por­trait Prize ex­hi­bi­tion this year – they say if you do some­thing long enough it be­comes a habit and, on the whole, this is a pleas­ant one to keep. But next year I want to leave smil­ing.

‘Mio Figlio Al­fredo’ from the se­ries La Mia Famiglia by David Brunetti

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