Shortlist Rabo Photographic Portrait Prize & Talent 2022: Laura Chen reflecting on her nominated series ‘Words From Dad’
The Dutch National Portrait Gallery and Rabobank collaborate to award the broad tradition of Dutch portraiture in photography. For the twelfth edition of the Rabo Photographic Portrait Prize, the jury came to evaluate a total of nearly 900 entries, resulting in a shortlist having five photographers selected for the main prize and three emerging artists nominated for the Talent Prize.
Wouter le Duc, Bonnita Postma, Robin de Puy, Eva Roefs and Prins de Vos are in the run-up for winning a cash prize of 10,000 euros and the possibility to have their portrait included in the Rabo Art Collection. The winning talent will be awarded 2,500 euros for a series of portrait photos, and the granted work may also be acquired.
It is with great pleasure to announce that I, Laura Chen, have been among the nominees for this year’s Rabo Photographic Portrait Talent, alongside Sander Coers and Hossein Fardinfard. As a proud Dutch photographer and a regular editorial contributor to GUP, it is an honour to be part of such an award that is uniquely our country’s own in the ever-growing global photography scene.
© Laura Chen, Dad and Grandad (Pap en Opa), 2021
I have to admit, I was a bit dazed by this unexpected acknowledgement, considering that my series ‘Words From Dad’ — in which I explore my Dutch-Chinese heritage by tracing back my mixed roots through my grandfather’s life stories, as told by my dad — takes a rather unconventional and abstracted approach to portraiture. Employing analogue photomontage techniques such as weaving and embroidery to reconstruct and embellish photographs, I not only challenge the unwritten rules and traditions of portrait photography within my practice, but also stretch the definition of portraiture by using archival photographs from my personal family albums as a medium to create alternative representations of people and their surroundings.
© Laura Chen, Red String Of Fate, 2021
Struck by the enduring and authentic appeal of bygone and worn photography, I am curious about what I can potentially do with these old pictures, or what I can see in them from a contemporary point of view. When working with pre-existing readymades — photographs that were taken by other people — I can be amazed about how such images all carry a sense of history to them, evoking memories and associations through visible evidence; containing signs of love, abuse and neglect. Especially in today’s image-saturated society, I find collage-techniques an interesting field to explore in regards to the scope for storytelling.
“I can be amazed about how such images all carry a sense of history to them, evoking memories and associations through visible evidence…”
With ‘Words From Dad’, I intend to explore this idea of craftsmanship and observation by reworking my family portraits. Even though I have unfortunately never met my grandfather in person, since he passed away before I was born, with the physical touch of my hand — through manual weaving, embroidery and adding layers of ink — I can still somehow connect to him, albeit in spirit.
© Laura Chen, Untitled, 2021
Starting out as the collector, I gradually become the curator, and by taking complete ownership and control of the images, I can become the artist, without having pressed the shutter. One can create endless variations of outcomes using the same set of images. Within a process of merging and repurposing, I begin to present visual accounts of people, places and things that would have otherwise never been put in relation to one another. Recollections, narratives and situations are rewritten and enveloped in a new context.
“By taking complete ownership and control of the images, I can become the artist, without having pressed the shutter.”
I believe there is a lot we can learn from acknowledging and paying tribute to what has been made and done before. It is the only way we can discover how to depart, contribute and progress. In regards to a long history of portrait photography, it is fascinating to see where it comes from, but it is an even more exciting prospect to see where it might be heading.
© Laura Chen, Dutch Beach, 2021
On 30 November, the Rabo Photographic Portrait Prize & Talent 2022 will be awarded in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, where the shortlisted portraits are currently exhibited in the Rabo@depot space on the fourth floor until 29 January 2023. Visitors to the exhibition can vote for their favorite portrait until 30 November, when the winner of the 1,000 euros audience award will also be announced.