"Portrait photographers have a difficult life nowadays. Everyone photographs themselves and everyone else, all the time, with instruments of ever-increasing quality. What's to distinguish the work of a professional, or justify it? The Taylor Wessing Prize, now at the National Portrait Gallery, has this year been awarded to the wrong photographers. But the exhibition also contains some superb work, and is much more varied than usual. 

The three prizes go to Cesar Dezfuli, for an over-composed portrait of a Malian refugee against the sea; to Abbie Trayler-Smith for another portrait of a refugee, a woman in Iraq behind a coach window, blurred like tears; and Maija Tammi's glossy image of a humanoid robot. 

The best work is actually elsewhere, often achieved by photographers who are working with subjects they know well. The sitters can be given the freedom to strike a pose. Mahtab Hussain's portrait of his brother in a magnificent green suit is a good example: it's exactly how the subject wants to be shown, a peacock displaying on his own terms. The photographs in the exhibition I loved best are by Mitchell Moreno. In one, lit like a Vermeer, a naked lover washes his feet in the kitchen sink. Tender, unaffected and warm." 


© Mitchell Moreno 2018

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