Alys Tomlinson wins Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with series about the proms that never were

Lost Summer depicts 44 teenagers in the outfits they had planned to wear for their leavers’ ball, capturing the “sadness and resilience” of young people during Covid.

25 November 2020

London-based photographer Alys Tomlinson has won this year’s coveted Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with her series Lost Summer, a project about teenagers who never got to attend their school prom due to Covid. Taken between June – August 2020, the series features 44 portraits of teens dressed in the outfits they had planned to wear to their school leavers’ ball, taken outdoors near their homes in north London. Tomlinson says she feels there is “a vulnerability and sadness to the portraits but also a resilience… they represent a loss and longing but also celebrate each teenager as an individual navigating this extraordinary time”.

The photographer has an ongoing interest in the formative, transitional years of teenagedom, seen in many of her series including The Teenage Fishers, Teenage, and The College on the Hill exploring the nuances through personality and context. For Lost Summer there was no casting involved so much of the results are serendipitous. She took them on a large format camera, a slow process she says “shifts the relationship you have with the sitter,” and something many of the teenagers had never seen before. “It’s quite a performance,” Tomlinson adds. “My hope was that it made them feel special for a small amount of time.”

GalleryAlys Tomlinson: Lost Summer (Copyright © Alys Tomlinson, 2020)







Second place went to Lydia Goldblatt’s image Eden from the series Fugue, a shot of the photographer’s daughter sitting in a plastic seeding tent she had made into a den in the garden during lockdown. The series depicts a broad and personal view of motherhood, intimacy and distance. Of the portrait, Goldbatt says: “In such close, sometimes blissful, sometimes painful proximity to my children, I am aware of all that remains unknown between us. We are fused and separate, present and absent, elusive. I work on film [on a medium format camera], so the process too is blind and unknown – like the context, an invisible virus, marked by inaccessibility and intangibility.”

In third place was Yolanda Y. Liou with her portrait of plus-size model Enam Ewura Adjoa Asiama, from the series Thank You For Playing. Liou uses photography to investigate issues around body image, and says that in Asian thin culture is often regarded as beautiful and the “relentless expectation of being skinny” affected her “mentally and physically” from a young age. The shot comes from a series also featuring model Vanessa Russell, which looks to celebrate body diversity and empower women to take control of their own narratives.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2020 online exhibition is on the National Portrait Gallery website from 24 November 2020 until 31 March 2021.


Lydia Goldblatt: Eden from the series Fugue (Copyright © Lydia Goldblatt, 2020)


Yolanda Y. Liou: Enam Ewura Adjoa Asiama, from the series Thank You For Playing (Copyright © Yolanda Y. Liou, 2020)

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Alys Tomlinson: Samuel, from Lost Summer (Copyright © Alys Tomlinson, 2020)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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