Emotive Portrait Category Winner: 2015 Better Photography Photograph of the Year Award Ian English went to a lot of trouble to create this portrait, but it's the details that make it so powerful.
I could be completely wrong in how I interpret this portrait: the fact that nobody talks about family violence. Whether I'm right or wrong might not be so important either, as Ian English's intention may have been simply to get his viewers to think.
I remember reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies at school. My teachers asked me to interpret the story in lots of different ways, but I preferred the author's own interpretation at the beginning of the book. In the edition I had, I remember him writing something like, 'Please don't read anything into this book, it's just a story'. Well, that's my memory of it, but looking on Google I can't find any edition to substantiate my claim (or my lackluster performance in English that year). However, the point is well made I hope: no matter what you intend a photograph to say, there's no guarantee your audience will pick it up or agree with you. And what they create may be beyond even your wildest expectations!
In our society, studio portraits are associated with family portraits and happy memories. Ian has created a portrait in the same genre, but embedded feelings of pain, fear, violence and despair. A ripped smock, a bruised eye and the stitched lips are small details in themselves, but they build into a powerful story.
Some photographers comment that unless you spend hours on a computer in post-production, you can't create photographs that will win competitions. In some ways this is true, but I think the difference isn't because the computer has been used, rather the photographer has embedded his or her creativity into the result. I'd like to suggest that Ian's pre-production for this image would have taken him hours of preparation as well. It's so easy just to point your camera and take a photo that society no longer looks in awe at a beautiful portrait or landscape. The craft is expected to be good, so today, it is the art that separates one photographer from another.