Exposed: Taylor Wessing’s focus on image

Most firms probably would not want to be associated with photographs of drug-addicted prostitutes and half-naked women, but for Taylor Wessing it is a case of any publicity is good publicity.

Since 2008 the firm has sponsored the National Portrait Gallery’s (NPG) annual photographic portrait prize, and as far as branding exercises go, few law firms have achieved such exposure in
When the shortlist for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2010 was announced in August, the firm’s name was splashed across national newspapers and magazines. In the run-up to the exhibition opening on 11 November, it will also be on ­billboards across London. Little wonder then that managing partner Tim Eyles is indifferent to the controversy surrounding some of the images that will be on display.

One of the four shortlisted photographs is Jeffrey Stockbridge’s ’Tic Tac and Tootsie’, a portrait of 20-year-old twin sisters forced into prostitution as a result of their drug addiction. But the portrait that has stirred most debate is Panayiotis Lamprou’s ’Portrait of my British Wife’.

The photograph, which was not originally meant for public display, is a full-length shot of Lamprou’s wife dressed in only a small vest. Lamprou says the photo “expresses female power and independence as well as my devotion to my wife”. Others have claimed it blurs the line between art and pornography.

“The work is chosen on the basis of artistic merits,” says Eyles. “When you’re linked with such a reputable body as the NPG, you’re more than happy to trust its good judgement. There will be a sign at the entrance so school groups and families are well aware of the content.”

The image is one of 6,000 entries received by the NPG for this year’s competition, from a total of 2,401 photographers across the globe. Sixty portraits will be on display at the exhibition.

NPG director Sandy Nairne says: “This is now an established part of the gallery’s calendar. What’s good about the prize is that it’s open to anyone, from well-known professionals to talented amateurs. I like the fact that many entrants are young, and that winning can really help someone who’s on the way up.”

Alongside the likes of The Daily Telegraph photography critic Lucy Davies and award-winning ­photographer Harry Borden, ­Taylor Wessing partner and business group director Rodney Dukes was on the shortlist judging panel.

Asked what benefits the relationship brings for Taylor Wessing, Nairne says: “It’s a good partnership and a strong business development opportunity. The firm can also organise events for clients and staff and get special access to the exhibition. More importantly, it shows them to be a creative and forward-looking firm.”

Eyles believes the partnership reinforces the firm’s international outlook. “Nearly half the entries come from abroad and I think that’s consistent with our outlook as an international firm,” he says. “Also, the prize is about finding new talent, something we’re keen to promote. It’s about more than simply increasing our profile.”

The firm also sponsors a series of workshops for up-and-coming photographers.

Eyles says the prize is consistent with the close links the firm has built with the art world in recent years. “A number of partners are involved in the arts,” he explains. “I’m chair of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, which supports emerging talent.”

While Dukes is on the judging panel this year, Eyles was a judge in 2008 and 2009.

“It would have been me this year but I was abroad at the time,” says Eyles. “I was quite jealous that Rodney got to do it.”

Eyles will have plenty of time to get back on the panel – Taylor Wessing is signed up to sponsor the prize until 2013.

‘Huntress with Buck’ from the series ’Hunters’ by David Chancellor