Image of determined 16-year-old migrant wins Taylor Wessing portrait prize

Spanish journalist César Dezfuli wins £15,000 award for his photograph of teenager rescued from the Mediterranean Sea

An arresting photograph of a solemn 16-year-old migrant from Mali taken after he had been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea has won a major portrait award.

The Spanish photojournalist César Dezfuli was named winner of the 2017 Taylor Wessing prize at a ceremony on Tuesday night at London’s National Portrait Gallery, the award’s organisers.

He won for his photograph of Amadou Sumaila, one of more than 100 people who were rescued from the sea on 1 August 2016, about 23 miles from Libya.

Judges said that, set against the balance and precision of Dezfuli’s composition, “the directness of Sumaila’s gaze is striking and unsettling. The portrait powerfully conveys his loss, solitude and determination.”

Dezfuli was on board a rescue vessel documenting the plight of migrants escaping war, persecution and poverty.

He said the 16-year-old’s portrait stood out because of the emotion it transmitted. “He had just been rescued by a European vessel, apparently fulfilling his dream. However, his look and his attitude show fear, mistrust and uncertainty, as well as determination and strength.”

A young girl looks through a bus window as she arrives at a refugee camp
The second prize went to Abbie Trayler-Smith for her picture of a young girl arriving at a refugee camp. Photograph: Abbie Trayler-Smith/NPG

Dezfuli, aged 26, won £15,000 while in second place, with a prize of £3,000, was Abbie Trayler-Smith for her photograph of a girl fleeing Isis in Mosul, Iraq, taken while she was working on a commission for Oxfam.

Third place went to a portrait which has raised some eyebrows because it is not a human portrait. Instead Maija Tammi’s photograph is of an android called Erica, created at the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories in Osaka, Japan.

As well as third overall it won the Finnish photographer the John Kobal New Work award, which comes with £5,000 and a commission from the National Portrait Gallery.

The winning photographs and those chosen for inclusion in the annual Taylor Wessing exhibition were chosen from 5,717 submissions entered by 2,423 photographers from 66 countries. This was the first year in which digital entries were allowed for the initial sift.

The 2017 judges, who have no knowledge of who the entrants are, were the Guardian’s head of photography Fiona Shields; the artist Gillian Wearing; the writer and curator David Campany; the managing partner of the law firm sponsors, Tim Eyles; and the gallery’s associate curator of photographs Sabina Jaskot-Gill. The panel was chaired by Nicholas Cullinan, director of the NPG.

  • The Taylor Wessing Photographic portrait prize 2017 exhibition is at the NPG 16 November-8 February.


Mark Brown

The GuardianTramp

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