Michael Birt on The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at The National Portrait Gallery and His Practice

Kiera Knightley © Michael Birt

Polly Stenham © Michael Birt

Hilary Mantel © Michael Birt

Doris Lessing © Michael Birt

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 Michael Birt, 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…

Michael Birt and his Experience Entering The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize:

“I entered the Portrait Prize in 1991, the first year the competition was held – then called The John Kobal Photographic Portrait Prize. John was a friend, who died that same year, I did not enter again until 2008.

I have been long-listed five times with images of Baroness Thatcher, Doris Lessing, Polly Stenham, Keira Knightley and Hilary Mantel, all of which I feel strongly towards for different reasons. Lessing was one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century, her calmness and energy were impressive. She came out-of-hours, early one morning to view her portrait and it was a moving moment to see her at the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait of Keira Knightley was originally a poster for a West End play, The Children’s Hour, by Lillian Hellman. The gallery used the portrait as their main promotional image and seeing the posters around London, was edifying. I shot the Hilary Mantel portrait for Newsweek on location in Devon. She won the Booker Prize in 2012 for Bring Up the Bodies, the same year it was long-listed, she also came to see her portrait.

I have had four images selected within the last seven years, keeping to the same criteria, maximum size prints, bold imagery, contemporary subjects and coincidentally all women. Although there seems to be an overall style in the exhibition, inevitably there are anomalies within the sixty prints selected. I believe the images need to be visually stimulating and tell a story; all portraiture should come from a relationship between the photographer and the sitter. I aim to tell the viewer at least two things, something about the subject they recognise and something they do not.

In the last few years, the technical quality of the portraits has been particularly high, as digital image making and printing improves. I enjoy the relationship I have with Mark Foxwell at Genesis Imaging, we have built a strong understanding about how the prints should look.

There has been a proliferation of photographic awards and contests in recents years, many seem to be designed to raise revenue and image usage for the organises rather than produce a body of work to be exhibited for a public audience in a gallery. The National Portrait Gallery’s, Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is rare in its excellence and what it gives back to photography and photographers.”

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 Michael Birt’s Website

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