Black is the New Black

01 December 2018

SIG: Contemporary

I was lucky enough to get a place at one of my company’s events at the National Portrait gallery. We’re a sponsor for NPG.  The event was to discuss portrait photography, in particular the Black is the New Black exhibition, and have a go at some hands-on portrait photography with colleagues from work.

The visit was led by visual artist Othello De'Souza-Hartley – he was featured in the RPS Contemporary Special Interest Group’s Journal (Number 70 Winter 2018).

We started discussion the power of portraiture in general, looking at classic British portraiture in painting of monarchs and then photographs of notable individuals from history, including some Victorian photography. We discussed the power of the image and how clothing, props and location informed what we, as individuals, saw in the portrait.

Moving up from the education centre to see the images in Black is the New Black we are confronted with what I think is an unusual sight in any British gallery – a wall filled only with black faces. Artist Simon Frederick’s images are nearly all cropped to show only faces, only a few giving hints abut the sitter.

Black is the New Black brings is a collection of images of exceptional figures from the world of politics, business, culture, religion and science from the last 30+ years.  This is a great look at some great contributors too British life, all of whom just happen to be black.  For those of us with imperfect memories the gallery provides help for the lack of clues as to who and why people are included with a long cheat sheet with names. Technology provides a fantastic supplement; the Black is the New Black app lets you point your smartphone camera at the gallery images and presents a video for each image with the sitter talking about their life.

I also went to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize gallery, many great images too. NPG is well worth a visit at the moment. Black is the New Black and the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2018 are both showing until 27th January 2019.