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. Carol Allen Storey, an esteemed photojournalist whose image ‘Macleen’ features in this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery, shares insight into her work and advice for aspiring photographers…
On her practice…
“I have been a self-confessed ‘photo news junkie’ since I was a child. At the tender age of 7, my father gave me the National Geographic as a birthday present, which unleashed my curiosity about the world through the compelling photographic imagery featured. The National Geographic, alongside reading a minimum of two other newspapers a day (our family were voracious readers) lead me down the path to be an advocate for human rights, equality and the human condition.
My photographic practice is focused on chronicling complex humanitarian and social issues – especially amongst women and children. My aim is to provide a voice to the disenfranchised, to illuminate their struggles and dignity. While I believe photographs may not be capable of doing the moral work for us, they can trigger the process of social consciousness. Within this context, I believe that portraiture is an essential element in telling an emotive story.
For example, in the Vietnam War there was a chilling image by a photographer called Nick Ut that depicted a naked young girl running away from being burnt by napalm. Many believe that picture acted as a catalyst for positive action in the States against the war, changing attitudes. Steve McCurry’s portrait of a haunting green eyed Afghan girl, which appeared on the cover of The National Geographic, brought home the extent of the migration and displacement crisis.
You come back to a still iconic portrait image like a good piece of music, a symphony; you can hear it many times and it’s interpreted in many ways and each time you contemplate it. It is a very powerful instrument to provoke debate, to have people think about things; from exquisite beauty through to unthinkable horror, but particularly in photojournalism, where the portrait plays a central role for impact.”
On her image in The Taylor Wessing exhibition…
“The image selected is from a series ‘The Loneliness of AIDS’, which was commissioned by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The essay depicts the challenges of children living with AIDS in a remote region on the west coast of Uganda who are supported by a local community run outreach programme that gives them hope.
In the image, Macleen lies on the floor with her cherished blonde haired doll – a prized possession, a gift from the photographer a year ago when the essay about the loneliness of AIDS amongst children was created. It is the only toy she has ever had. She is now a member of MUSCAT, the organisation born out of the need to support children abandoned by their parents and their community in their quest to battle the ravages of living with the AIDS virus. Since joining, she is under the care of her dedicated volunteer who helps her adhere to the rigours of the drug programme, managing the effects of stigma and the isolation created due to her AIDS status.
The challenge for creating sensitive images of young children suffering from the AIDS virus, along with their abject poverty, was creating a bond of trust with them and their family and carers. I have undertaken this type of photography for a long time and am comfortable in creating the right atmosphere and of creating imagery that is not exploitive. Still, it is always a challenge.
My greatest challenge on this trip, however, was becoming acutely ill. When I arrived I needed hospitalisation in a third world hospital and was on a drip for four days, threatened with kidney failure and not clear what drugs were being used to treat me. In spite of the illness – once out of the hospital, with the support of my ‘fixer’ and the head of the nurses at the Kilembe Mines Hospital – I continued on my mission to photograph 12 of these children I had visited the year before to see the progress they had made through the newly created through outreach programme support from the EJAF.”
On processing and production…
“I work very closely with specialists for post production, to achieve how I want the imagery to look, its atmosphere. That said, there are NO bells and whistles in Photoshop as I want the image to be telling the truth, not invented on the computer. I am a photojournalist and therefor honesty, honour must be unimpeachable.
Given that the image was going to be featured in the National Portrait Gallery, I produced my image as a Giclée Fine Art Print with Genesis at the largest side permissible to the rules – here I felt size mattered for impact of the image.”
On the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize…
“I have been entering the Taylor Wessing for the past six years and have been fortunate to be selected for four of them.
For me a portrait has to reveal the soul of the subject, ask questions of why the image is being created, is memorable, elegant in it execution, and a bit of the soul of the photographer reflected. I think the judges have a very complex responsibility to select imagery that is emotive, modern, tells a story from a different perspective, and is technically excellent.”
Advice for photographers…
“Do NOT create images to win competitions … Make the imagery to nourish your soul!
The advice I would give to anyone entering this competition is to study what makes a good portrait – not what has won or been entered in the Taylor Wessing as a starting point, but more importantly, what the masters have created through painting, sculpture and photography over the years to learn and then experiment. Sometimes the best experimentation is working on personal projects, which is where I push the envelope and ‘play’ with a myriad of ideas. Also, go to a gallery/ museum at least once a week, watch film, go to dance – all of these will have an influence and provide inspiration. Mostly, be passionate about what you are pursuing.”
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
17 November 2016 – 26 February 2017
The National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place