Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 February, 2015
Blerim Racaj won forth prize with Indecisive Monet, from a recent, unpublished series about young Kosovars, triggered by the socio-polictical landscape in Kosovo and the high level of unemployed young people. “I’m aware that almost every Kosovar is affected by painful traumas of the war, directly or indirectly,” says Racaj, who, seeking to denote the uncertain future of the teenage subjects, used black-and-white film with single flash to create a deliberately “dark, mundane environment” during the shoot.
59 images including the winning work have been chosen from 4,193 submissions, to be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 Nov 2014 until 22 Feb 2015.
Horribly underexposed, and dispensing with mid-tones to highlights, Blerim Racaj’s Indecisive Moment, 2013 is a curiously effective image, although its merits as a portrait are less certain (Pictured above).
Racaj’s group of disenfranchised Kosovan youths drinking in the street was photographed over a long period, with the whole process heavily stage-managed to achieve the desired effect. Racaj simultaneously wanted to realise his own fully formed concept of how the picture would look, while intervening as little as possibly to minimise his subjects’ awareness of the camera. Sure enough, there is a troubling disconnect between the photographer and his subjects, and the lack of any upper tonal register has a deadening effect – it is as if a fog has descended, isolating the subjects from the viewer. The effect of orchestrating the image over time also shows, with the action appearing more slowed down than frozen in time – the difference, perhaps, between a film still and a photograph. Does it say much about these individuals? I’m not sure. But as an attempt to portray a generation of young Kosovans facing a bleak and unpromising future, trapped in their own Indecisive Moment, it is both ambitious and disconcerting.