See the Photos That Won a Major International Prize for South African Photographer Alice Mann
These portraits of young drum majorettes in the Western Cape won this year’s prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London
Keisha Ncube has the gaze of an exceptionally intelligent yet playful child. Is she about to tell a joke? Or simply wink, turn neatly on her heel and stride away?
Taylim Prince, on the other hand, could well be her ‘drummies’ team’s dreamiest member. She’s casually leaning on her arm, looking thoughtful and self-contained.
Wakiesha Titus and Riley Van Harte stare confidently into the camera, chins on their fists. These two are clearly ready to take on the world.
And Tanique Williams is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all. Perfectly turned out, with her gleaming white boots and spangled costume standing out against the dilapidated stairway in which she’s pictured, she looks sideways at the viewer, a slightly uncertain look in her eyes – but her chin is up and she is ready to compete.
These five remarkable – yet also wonderfully ordinary – girls are the subjects of the four photographs for which South African photographer Alice Mann won the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London this year. Mann spent three months photographing different teams of girls – all of them drum majorettes, or ‘drummies’ – across the Western Cape, beginning at Dr Van der Ross Primary school in Belhar, Cape Town. Many of the girls in Mann’s photographic series hail from South Africa’s most disadvantaged communities.
Born in South Africa in 1991, Alice Mann graduated from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in photography, and is now based in London. ‘[These] images are part of a much larger body of work, which is a combination of a more documentary approach and portraits,’ says Mann.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize judges commented: ‘Mann’s series is consistent in its evocation of a sustained and intriguing narrative. Each sitter is precisely framed within a carefully considered composition, and the girls confidently meet the camera’s gaze. Their pristine and vibrant outfits jar with the rundown surroundings, lending a surreal and enigmatic atmosphere to the portraits.’
For the first time in the competition’s history, the judges awarded the prize to a series of four photographs rather than a single image. And what a series it is. ‘These four portraits are some of my favourite images,’ says Mann, ‘especially the one of Riley and Wakiesha because they are so charismatic. For these girls, involvement in “drummies” becomes a vehicle for them to excel, and the distinctive uniforms serve as a visual marker of perceived success and represents emancipation from their surroundings. Continuing my consideration into notions of femininity and empowerment in modern society, it was my intent to create images that reflect the pride and confidence the girls achieve through identifying as “drummies”.’