Dylan Collard on The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at The National Portrait Gallery and His Practice

12th Man : Jordan © Dylan Collard

Mannaquin Workers : Fernando © Dylan Collard

Forever Boys : Peter © Dylan Collard

Forever Boys : Jim © Dylan Collard

Up My Street : Tony © Dylan Collard

Genesis have a long history of working with photographers to achieve exceptional results for entries for the National Portrait Gallery’s Photographic Portrait Prize, in its many incarnations over the years. We asked esteemed photographer Dylan Collard, one of the many photographers who whose work we have printed, to dig through his archives and share insights on some of his previous entries for the Photographic Portrait Award and his practice…

How long have you entered the Portrait Prize competition for?

I first entered the Taylor Wessing back in 1995, when it was known by a different name (The John Kobal Award). The image I entered was one I took of a fellow student that I was quite proud of, but it didn’t get in. I was in my first year at college then and had no idea what I was entering really; I just fancied my chances. 

Since then I’ve entered many times and received lots of rejection letters, and a few congratulatory ones too…

Which of all the photographs that you have entered in the Portrait prize have you been most proud to have taken and why?

In 2010 I did a series of portraits of people who worked in a mannequin factory in Walthamstow that I’d shot on an old 10×8 Ganfoli camera.  It was the first time I’d stepped away from all of the preparation I was used to doing for shoots.  I didn’t know exactly where I was going to shoot each shot, and I didn’t have a lighting plan – which is how I was used to working in advertising. I turned up to the shoot knowing only what I wanted to do, with no idea who I was going to shoot, where or how (other than intending to use the Gandolfi camera) which, as I mentioned, was very unusual for me.  

I loved the spontaneity of working in this way – that shoot and the results seemed much fresher than my previous work. They didn’t get in to the Taylor Wessing though!

What do you think the judges look for in portrait submissions?

Judging competitions and awards is difficult and as the Portrait Salon Award shows, so many good images are rejected from competitions like the Taylor Wessing. The Photo Prize has a strong identity, which I think is good and subsequently, we know what sort of image we’re going to see at the NPG every year. It’s not a bad thing; I like a competition that has the confidence to stick to what it is about and what it represents.  Unlike other competitions (that try to cover several genres) it sticks resolutely to one objective / brief; portraiture.  As a result, the trend tends to be towards “real” images and more fine art / editorial work than anything else, but it often includes a couple of surprises.

In the past, friends have asked my opinion on which six images they should enter – I’ve been right a few times and picked images that have got in, but then there have been times when I’ve picked pretty much the exact opposite to what has actually got in; its a hard one to call!

The competition, and resulting exhibition is a massive edit – from around 5,000 images to a mere 60 is one hell of a cut down, and I guess images that have some sort of impact are going to be the survivors!

I’ve always said that competitions can be used as an interesting guide to whether your images have the desired impact.  If my work stands out in a competition environment then I believe it has a greater chance of standing out in a commissioning environment.

If I’m not getting any competition success, then perhaps I need to look at why this is happening and ultimately, try harder! That said, it is subjective, of course, and there are lots of reasons why a fantastic image might not be successful in competitions or win awards – but I still think it’s a useful indication. In the past, competition success for me has definitely been followed by periods of commercial success.

Looking back at some of your earlier submissions, how do you think your practice has changed?

I think my work has become a bit more focused as time has passed, but other than that I don’t see a huge change. Technically speaking, I’ve learnt more as I’ve shot more – I still shoot film and digital and I still love large format, lighting and beautiful prints. Through the years, I moved away from more constructed / imaginary images to something more akin to portraiture, but as I’m still an advertising photographer, constructing images and working to a brief is a large part of my job and my approach to photography

I’ve always loved location work, shooting with people and using environments to tell a story about a person, but I think I tend to work with more factual subjects these days – less super heroes and more ‘up my street’  (shown in the images above).

Finally, what would you say it is that makes a good portrait?

I’m not a big fan of the ‘decisive moment’, so I always hesitate to use the term ‘capture’ in relation to photography but I guess photographic portraiture differs form other forms of portraiture because of this instantaneous ‘moment’ and its connection to the real.

A good portrait is like any good image; it makes the viewer ‘look’, it gives a connection to that person, allowing them to recognise an emotion, feeling, or a state of mind.  I’m not sure that there’s any big secret to creating a portrait, everyone has their own approach; we take photographs and sometimes we think they’re good, mostly okay and a few I think are really good.  

Our Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Special Print Offer:

Unlike other labs, we work with photographers and artists to achieve exceptional results and our prints are produced collaboratively to ensure the best representation of the photographer’s vision and the highest quality results. Alongside this, every year we strive to make entry to the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize easier with an offer designed to take away the hassle of the labelling and delivery of your work and providing protection of your print during the judging process – and this year is no different.

Learn more about our Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize offer.

Visit Dylan Collard’s Website

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