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The pictures of Keira Knightly and Peter Crouch advertising the Taylor Wessing exhibition were not exactly a cause for excitement. I could only foster the expectation for a room full of celebrity portraits, attempting to be intimate and personal, and yet only showing the faces I see every day plastered on magazine covers. Thankfully the exhibition was a surprise, presenting an exciting collection of thought-provoking images celebrating the progression of photography in art.

The exhibition perfectly arranged the best of the 6,033 entries in an expression of true photographic finesse. Faces like Julian Assange, photographed by Kate Peters, and Dolly Parton, by Zed Nelson, although interesting and beautifully shot, demanded less attention than the subjects less used to the camera flash. The piece “Bibi Aisha” by Jodi Bieber showed a young woman, brutally mutilated by members of the Taliban in punishment for fleeing from her violent husband, sat allowing her scars to tell her story. “Grace”, photographed by Carol Allen Storey, showed a Ugandan woman, widowed twice, driven to prostitution, and yet smiling for the camera.

The positioning of the pieces created moving contrasts – between a group mourning the fatal attack on 15 year old Antonio Olmos in April 2010, photographed by Negus McClean, and a small crowd of students all waiting for a cheap haircut in David Stewart’s “The Shepherdess”. A ruined palace in Kabul, shot by Jeremy Rata, was placed with a family portrait of the van der Borch van Verwolde, placing chaos against finery, and yet giving dignity to the figures in both.

The Taylor Wessing exhibition started my art year with a pleasant surprise, and a vow to appreciate photography and portraiture, and maybe even Keira Knightly, a little more.

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