I was wrong.
The predominant feeling of loss, struggle, fear, pain and anxiety are also visible in contemporary photography. Today in the morning, they filled up the space of the National Portrait Gallery at Cromwell Place. I wonder if I saw even one smile on the exhibited works. Even if there was one, it was hidden behind a story of immigration, oppression and overcoming the impossible. I felt how every glance of the person in the photograph, or the lack of that glance, pierced me to the bone. Still, I didn't want to look away. Not only because many of the works were deeply related to my home country, Poland, but also because I should be very present with the photographers and people in the photos at the moment. My role as a viewer was to respect these stories, to be observed and to be an observer. A silent observer.
Valerie Bacot by Ed Alcock
Emilia, 12, Polish Saturday School by Craig Easton
Untitled 5 by Helen Rimell
Zahid's Son by Alexander Komenda
Golgotha by Gregory John Turner
Antonietta Resting in Bed by Marco Marinucci
Orlando and Wilson by Chris Budgeon
Island Devil, Ghost, Hooded Man, Son of Man by Tony Sebastian Ukpo
Vitalli and Vadim, Poland 2022 by Michal Chelbin
This Used to Be My Playground & Vogue House by Frederic Aranda
Peter & Sure by Curtis Hughes
I haven't always felt like this towards photography. I like sculpture, painting and installation because you can interpret them however you want. Photography, especially portraits, puts you in front of an accomplished fact. You are here, and you have someone's entire life story before you. There are no words, no texture or form. There is nothing to read, interpret or guess. Still, this medium limits the ability to fully realise the "concept" of the other person ("I and Thou" Martin Buber), but at least it allows you to have a glimpse.
Zhaohui & Davey, Rotterdam, November 2021 by Sarah Mei Herman
Shaheen & Bari, Sacred Geometry by Suleika Mueller
Mother and Daughter, Rooted, The Lover 1 by Haneem Christian
Portrait of Finn Wolfhard by Celeste Sloman
Demi, Brummana, Lebanon, 2021 by Rania Matar
Anastasia Kornelia by Fiona Bailey
Stephanie Solano, Reynosa, 2021 by Adam Ferguson
Mike by Lewis Khan
I am very impressed with the artists selected for this Prize. Few photographers have genuinely moved me, and this exhibition was full of them. I highly recommend visiting it before it ends, but go alone. Spend more time in front of these stories than you normally would. Sometimes all we can do for another person is notice them, listen, respect and remember.
As I walked out of the exhibition, I was thinking about two photographs in particular. With every step I was trying to stop my tears.