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Taylor Wessing Prize winner Pat Martin used photography to reconnect with his “misunderstood” mother

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Pat Martin: Gail and Beaux, from the series Goldie (Mother) (2018)

The winner of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 is Pat Martin, announced at an event at London’s National Portrait Gallery last night (5 November). The Los Angeles-based photographer won the prestigious award, and its £15,000 prize money, for two images from his highly personal series Goldie (Mother), which documents his reconnection with his mother at what he says was “the 11th hour”.

His mother suffered with addiction issues throughout her life, and Martin says he spent most of his life misunderstanding her, and witnessing how the world misunderstood her. “Photographing her became a way of looking into a mirror and finding details I never noticed," he says of the project. “There were always new ones to discover, and something new to hide… I began this project at the 11th hour, and needing to reconnect, I chose to focus where I was fearful to look. When I recognised I was without a document of her existence, the camera became a magnet, pulling in her direction over and over, taking one memory at a time.”

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Pat Martin: Mom (our last one), from the series Goldie (Mother) (2018)

The photographs present a raw, honest and engaging depiction of Martin’s mother, which the judges commented were “sensitive, tough and even humorous”. They capture Goldie’s struggle and pride, and in turn speak to the fragility of human experience, and the power of a photographic portrait to express loss and evoke memory. The judges also praised Martin’s confident and assured used of light and composition.

We spoke to Martin last year, ahead of starting this series, wherein he described how he achieves the glorious light of his works. “At the right time of day,” he told us, “the light from the California sun can create a special glow, and hand-printing the images helps me accept the colours for how they appeared naturally.”

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Enda Bowe: Neil, from the series Love’s Fire song (2018)

Irish photographer Enda Bowe won second prize for his portrait Neil from the series Love’s Fire Song, which focuses on Belfast’s Conway estate. The judges noted the simplicity and beauty of Bowe’s work, his use of natural light, and his subject’s pose and expression, which they said conveyed a compelling sense of interiority. Bowe said of the series: “I concentrated on the ordinary, the everyday. I used a saturated colour palette with only subtle symbolisms, and without reference to the specific locations they were taken. Free from political and geographical context, the photographs speak of longing, yearning, aspirations and vulnerabilities of young people in Belfast today.”

Enda spoke at Nicer Tuesdays October, where he spoke about a ribbon through his work being “the search for hope in everyday life”.

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Garrod Kirkwood: The Hubbucks, from the series England (2018)

Third prize went to Garrod Kirkwood’s The Hubbucks from the series England, which shows a family on the cusp of a holiday adventure – “a magical moment,” he says, "that we can all relate to… a cinematic scene from real life”.

An exhibition of the winners and long list opens tomorrow (7 November) until 16 February 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery.