Katie Walsh by Spencer Murphy, 2013 © Spencer Murphy

The Face Of The National

A photograph of Grand National jockey Katie Walsh has won the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photography Prize.

The award and £12,000 prize money was awarded to photographer Spencer Murphy at the National Portrait Gallery. The image of Katie was captured by Spencer after a race at Kempton Park in 2013. At the time the photographer was working on a Grand National promotional project for Channel4 titled ‘The Original Extreme Sport’.

“I was keen to include Katie,” said Murphy: “I wanted to show both her femininity and the toughness of spirit she requires to compete against the best riders in one of the most demanding disciplines in horse racing.”

The image was captured on traditional film, a rare medium today even for professional photographers. Speaking about the choice of film the London based photographer said “I chose to shoot the series on large format film, to give the images a depth and timelessness that I think would have been hard to achieve on a digital camera.”

Looking at the photo it is easy to see the effect the photographer was hoping to capture, the pose and expression bares a resemblance to the famous ‘American Gothic’ painting by Grand Wood. You could easily transpose Wood’s hard toiling farmer for the mud splatter image of Katie with both pictures conveying a life which is tougher than it looks on the surface.

Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery where the photo of Katie now hangs until the 9th of February, was a member of the Awards judging panel and speaking about the winning entry she said “The image successfully conveyed everything that jockeys go through and live through. It felt very powerful.”

The dark hair and pale complexion of Katie set against the deep wine coloured silks of her horse Seabass, who she nearly won the Grand National on in 2012, makes for a simple yet mesmerising image. Obviously it stuck in the minds of the judges who picked this portrait over 5,140 other submissions.

If you’re in London and want to see this stunning portrait by Spencer Murphy pop along to the National Portrait Gallery – exhibition ends 9th February (Admission £3, Concs £2).