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National Photographic Portrait Prize and Promo: Portraits from Prime Time opened in March at the National Portrait Gallery, and you couldn’t find two more diametrically opposed exhibitions in the photographic arena. The pre-exhibition peek at Promo was to go behind-the-scenes of the world of stars of stage, screen, music and comedy, with the subjects happy to go along with the photographers’ ideas, to give us a witty look at them and their sense of the ridiculous as much as the photographer's vision. Hamish Blake, with turban and very ugly cat is a ‘purfect’ pose, and a bubble bath moment for everyone’s favourite comedian Rebel Wilson, a foil for the impact of the main event that is the Portrait Prize.
When you take mainly ‘happy’ work related photographs, as I do, there’s some unsettling and thought provoking images in the predominately black and white entries selected as finalists in this 2014 collection. With a wonderful rear view of the Abbott head by Mike Bowers I felt a hint of an unhappy Mousekateer walking off set, but the face of college student Lah Wah by Hardy Lohse has sad eyes for me, and says much about this young man who has seen more sadness than most in his young life. Confronting were the littlies with chicken-pox. For no other reason than to remember that itch from my own youth and the subsequent shingles that are the bane of my generation who missed out on any preventative vaccine.
Though, the dragon tattoos of The Butcher’s Daughter by Paul Raymond Beutel decorating her chest where breasts were before a double mastectomy, is a proud and positive use of an art form that is as confronting as is the scourge of breast cancer.
Once again the National Portrait Gallery has stepped outside the conventional of portraiture to select exceptional photographs that test our smug world of happy smiling faces to define another kind of beauty and finds real treasures.