Photo of girl fleeing Isis shortlisted for Taylor Wessing portrait prize

Images by Abbie Trayler-Smith, César Dezfuli and Maija Tammi in contention for annual photographic award

Portraits of a determined migrant rescued from the Mediterranean and a disoriented girl fleeing a life under Islamic State in Iraq have been shortlisted for one of the world’s most prestigious photographic competitions.

They are joined by a photograph of what appears to be a young Japanese woman, but is in fact an android called Erica created by scientists at Osaka University.

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London announced the contenders for this year’s Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize, an annual award running since 1993 that is open to amateurs and professionals.

The portrait of an unnamed girl escaping Isis is the work of Welsh documentary and portrait photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith. It was shot outside Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people in northern Iraq, where Trayler-Smith was working on a commission for Oxfam, talking to women who had lived under Isis and were prepared to be photographed.

The girl was on a convoy of buses bringing people to safety at the camp after a battle broke out hours earlier.

Trayler-Smith said: “I just remember seeing her face looking out at the camp. The shock and the bewilderment in her’s and other’s faces … it made me shudder to imagine what living under Isis had been like.

“To me, the uncertainty in her face echoes the faces of people having to flee their homes around the world and references a global feeling of insecurity.”

Amadou Sumaila by César Dezfuli.
Amadou Sumaila by César Dezfuli. Photograph: César Dezfuli

The Madrid-born photographer César Dezfuli is shortlisted for his portrait of Amadou Sumaila, which was taken as he documented the search and rescue operations for migrants on an NGO vessel working along the perilous central Mediterranean route.

Sumaila was photographed, bedraggled but strong and defiant, in international waters 20 miles off the Libyan coast. He has since been transferred to a temporary reception centre for migrants in Italy.

The third shortlisted photographer is Finnish artist Maija Tammi, whose portrait focuses on the artificial intelligence work carried out at the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories in Osaka.

One of Them is a Human #1 is part of a broader series presenting androids alongside one human that questions what it means to be alive.

One of Them Is a Human #1 by Maija Tammi.
One of Them Is a Human #1 by Maija Tammi. Photograph: Maija Tammi

Tammi said: “I had half an hour with Erica and a young researcher in which to take the photograph. The researcher told me that Erica had said she finds Pokémon Go scarier than artificial intelligence.”

The three portraits were chosen from 5,717 submissions by 2,423 photographers from 66 countries. For the first time, all were entered digitally, with 59 images chosen for the annual exhibition at the NPG.

Nicholas Cullinan, the NPG’s director, said the submission for this year’s prize was exceptionally strong. “The resulting exhibition consists of a range of photographic subjects that is truly global in its scope and concerns,” he said.

Tim Eyles, managing partner of the law firm Taylor Wessing, said: “To be on the judging panel of such a world-renowned competition, in our 10th year of sponsorship, is a true privilege.

“Year in, year out the quality of images remains exceptional. This year was no different with digital submissions adding a new creative twist … Those attending the exhibition will enjoy a truly special artistic treat.”

The winner of the £15,000 prize will be announced on 14 November, two days before the exhibition opens. As well as the competition entrants, it will feature previously unseen prints by the American photographer Todd Hido.

• The Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize 2017 exhibition is being held at the National Portrait Gallery in central London from 16 November to 4 February.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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