As the majority of the photography world is well aware, the shortlist for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Award was announced last week, and with it came the usual bout of controversy and criticism surrounding the selection. Since its launch in 1993, the competition has been the starting point for many portrait photographers, helping launch the careers of many of todays pre-eminent artists in the genre. This year the shortlist shows a diverse range of subjects, from Tintype portraits of surfers on the Californian coastline, to Israeli Orthodox Jews, and African teenagers in their school uniforms.
We recently spoke to one of the photographers shortlisted for the prize, Swiss born, Claudo Rasano, about his portrait of 18-year-old South African student, Katlehong Matsenen from the series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare.
Born in Basel, Switzerland in 1970, Claudio Rasano aims to explore the relationship between spaces and humans within photography, with his most recent project focusing on the issues of preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms.
Hey! Please tell me a bit about yourself and your background.
Hi! My name’s Claudio, I am 46, and I am based in Basel, Switzerland.
How did you get into photography? What was it about the medium that interested you?
It wasn’t a specific situation or moment that kick started it, it just happened in a very natural process. I think I was about 16, at my grandmothers house in Sicily when I first picked up a camera. I had been looking at the family photo albums since I was a little boy, and I had always been fascinated by their pictures of the thirties and fourties. And also, I loved my grandmother and wanted to have a souvenir of her.
Talk me through your current project, ‘Similar Looking, We Refuse To Compare’ what was your inspiration behing it?
What drew me to the series Similar Looking was the uniform itself, its history and aesthetics. Uniforms are compulsory in all state schools and in most private schools in South Africa. As a result, it is not unusual to see parents wandering around the school yard at collection time, dazed and confused, trying to pinpoint their little one among all the other similar-looking first graders. Children themselves have been known to rebel against uniforms, especially as they approach that awkward age characterised by the need to fit in and the desire to stand out, all at the same time. This really interested me, so I started trying to capture portraits of the children with the aim of highlighting the subjects’ character traits and individuality. I stood in front of a high school in Johannesburg, for 7 days, 4 hours a day. I took pictures of about 50 students, male and female. After two days they all knew me, and I didn’t have to ask, they came to me and wanted to have me take their picture. I shot the series in natural light in front of a white background as not to have any distraction from the person I am photographing so you can focus entirely on them.
The boy in the particular picture I submitted to Taylor Wessing is Katlehong Matsenen, 18 years old. Every portrait took me about 10 minutes, and I had a chat with every student. I worked with my Rolleiflex integral 6008 here as well.
You have just been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Award, how does it feel to have been selected for such a prestigious award?
It came as a bit of a shock, but I’m feeling very good and thankful about it.
How did you select your images to submit for the Taylor Wessing Award? Was there something in particular you wanted to say with the portrait you submitted?
I always print my work for myself in order to keep a record of everything I’ve shot. This was one of those prints and I was just drawn to this portrait in particular. I don’t really know why I chose it, there was just something about it that captured my attention.
You are a photographer whose work I have admired for quite some time now. Who are the photographers that inspire you and your practice?
I don’t have a degree in photography and am almost entirely self-taught. I took a few classes in photographic techniques and history but the majority of my inspiration came through looking at photobooks and visiting exhibitions. In my teenage years, Richard Avedon opened up the portraits-field for me, but I also was very impressed and inspired by the works of David Goldblatt, Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen.
Are there any other projects that you are working on, or have in the pipeline?
I have a few ideas in the works, but I am currently researching and preparing for a new series of portraits on regions of orthodox Jews in Israel and London.
What’s next for you?
Now that I don’t know. We’ll see what happens!
Thanks for talking to us, Claudio!
Claudio will be exhibiting his work alongside a wider prize show at the National Portrait gallery in London between 17th November and 26th February.