Pat Martin's 'sensitive' photographs of his late mother win leading portrait prize

Gail and Beaux; Mom (our last one) from the series Goldie (Mother) by Pat Martin, 2018 © Pat Martin

Two "sensitive, tough and even humorous" photographs taken by Pat Martin have won this year's Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize.

The £15,000 award was presented to the Los Angeles-based photographer at a ceremony at London's National Portrait Gallery last night.

Martin's intimate series of portraits of his late mother, Goldie, who struggled with addiction issues throughout her life, allowed him to reconnect with her and gave him the opportunity to build upon an empty photo album.

"For most of my life, I misunderstood my mother and witnessed how the world misunderstood her," he said. "Photographing her became a way of looking into a mirror and finding details I never noticed."

"I began this project when 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."

The judges all agreed that Martin's two winning portraits are "sensitive, tough and even humorous".

In a statement, they added: "The photographer has captured something of the struggle and pride of his mother which they felt speaks to the fragility of human experience and the power of the photographic portrait to express loss and evoke memory. The photographer’s assured use of light and a confidence in his compositional approach to the figure was greatly admired. Three further portraits from the series have been included in the display at the judges’ discretion to show the complexity of feeling expressed in Martin’s work."

Gail and Beaux; Mom (our last one) from the series Goldie (Mother) by Pat Martin, 2018 © Pat Martin

Gail and Beaux; Mom (our last one) from the series Goldie (Mother) by Pat Martin, 2018 © Pat Martin

Pat Martin with his winning portraits. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

Pat Martin with his winning portraits. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

Second prize was awarded to Irish photographer Enda Bowe for his portrait Neil, a young man photographed as part of Bowe’s series on the Belfast Conway estate, a project documenting youth culture on either side of the Belfast 'peace walls'.

"I concentrated on the ordinary, the everyday," he said. "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."

The judges praised the photographer’s use of natural light as well as the pose and expression achieved with his sitter. They also found that the image conveyed something of the "confusion, uncertainty and rebellion of youth".

Neil from the series Love's Fire Song by Enda Bowe, 2018 © Enda Bowe

Neil from the series Love's Fire Song by Enda Bowe, 2018 © Enda Bowe

Second prize winner Enda Bowe with his portrait. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

Second prize winner Enda Bowe with his portrait. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

British photographer Garrod Kirkwood scooped the third prize for The Hubbucks, a portrait of a family on the cusp of a holiday adventure to Whitley Bay, England.

Kirkwood said: "This is a magical moment and portrait of a family and group of individuals that we can all relate to.’ Kirkwood describes the photograph, taken in Whitley Bay, England, as ‘a cinematic scene from real life."

The judges greatly enjoyed the vibrancy and sense of spontaneity in this image. They admired the "strong and playful use of colour as well as the interesting composition in which the car sits low in the frame". They agreed that the photograph which shows a family – carefree and ready for adventure – was "one that revelled in a collectively treasured holiday memory many could relate to".

The Hubbucks from the series England by Garrod Kirkwood, 2018 © Garrod Kirkwood

The Hubbucks from the series England by Garrod Kirkwood, 2018 © Garrod Kirkwood

Third prize winner Garrod Kirkwood with his portrait. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

Third prize winner Garrod Kirkwood with his portrait. Photograph by Jorge Herrera

All submissions to the Taylor Wessing portrait prize are judged anonymously. This year, the winners were chosen from 3,700 entries from 1,611 photographers across 70 countries. A total of 55 portraits from 31 artists are to go on show at an exhibition launching tomorrow.

Shane Gleghorn, from Taylor Wessing, said the quality of entries was amazing and believes this year's final portraits are "challenging, evocative and uplifting".

They will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery from 7 November 2019 to 16 February 2020. For tickets, visit npg.org.uk/photoprize.