Katlehong Matsenen 2016 from the series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare
Katlehong Matsenen 2016 from the series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare won Claudio Rasano the first prize £15,000 © Claudio Rasano

In the age of the ubiquitous selfie a great portrait is still worth its weight in gold. It has won Claudio Rasano the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 for his portrait of a South African schoolboy from the city of Johannesburg, the National Portrait Gallery has announced.

The prestigious £15,000 award was presented to the Swiss-Italian photographer at an awards ceremony in London last night (Tuesday, 15 November 2016). Rasano's photograph and those selected for inclusion in the exhibition were chosen from 4,303 submissions entered by 1,842 photographers from 61 countries.

The winning portrait, part of Rasano's series Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare, was taken in February 2016, and focuses on issues of preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms. The photograph was shot in daylight, outdoors and in front of a plain white paper background. The sitter for this particular inkjet print is 18-year-old Katlehong Matsenen.

Rasano explains: "Children themselves have been known to rebel against uniforms, especially as they approach the awkward age characterised by the need to fit in and the desire to stand out, all at the same time. Some experts too have spoken against school uniforms on the grounds that they suppress individuality and diversity."

Rasano was born in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland. His work has been included in numerous international exhibitions and previously featured in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in 2011 and 2013. His awards include the Shortlist for the Athens Photo Festival, 2016; Bieler Fototage 2015; Leica Oskar Branack Prize 2015 and a finalist in the Photography Masters Cup 2015.

16.02.20 #1 Thea+Maxwell from the series Surfland
16.02.20 #1 Thea Maxwell from the series Surfland won Joni Sternbach 2nd prize and £3,000 at this year's competition © Joni Sternbach

Second prize was awarded to Joni Sternbach's large-format tintype portrait of surfers Thea Adler and Maxwell Schultz. American artist Sternbach was born in the Bronx, New York, and is a Visiting Artist at Cooper Union School of Art, faculty member at the International Centre of Photography and The Penumbra Foundation in New York, where she teaches wet plate collodion. Sternbach uses early photographic processes to create contemporary landscapes and environmental portraits, centering on man's relationship to water.

Her series Surfland, features large-format tintype portraits of surfers. Her prize-winning portrait was taken in February 2016 at Davenport Landing, Santa Cruz, California, USA. Sternbach says: "For me, this photograph represents many of the challenging aspects of creating a portrait. I was in an entirely new location and faced with people I'd never met before. In this spectacular environment, I aimed to create a dynamic complexity within the picture that was both unique to that person and also understandable to others."

The winning portraits will be on display at London's National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 exhibition from 17 November 2016 to 26 February 2017. The annual exhibition is one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world and showcases new work that has been submitted by some of the most exciting contemporary and emerging photographers. Since the international competition began in 1993, it has remained a hugely important platform for portrait photographers and offers an unparalleled opportunity for celebrated professionals, emerging artists and amateurs alike.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery said: "My congratulations to Claudio Rasano for his winning portrait of schoolboy Katlehong Matsenen taken in Johannesburg earlier this year. The quality and diversity of both this year's shortlist and exhibition are a testament to the engaging work being produced by international photographers. Each and every photographer who entered has contributed their part to the debate and evolution of contemporary portrait photography."

Shimi Beitar Illit, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein
Shimi Beitar Illit, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein won third prize and £2,000 © Kovi Konowiecki

Third prize went to Kovi Konowiecki for his photographs Shimi Beitar Illit and Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit part of a series of inkjet prints that portray Orthodox Jews from around the world. American artist Konowiecki was born and raised in Long Beach, California. After pursuing a professional career in football, Konowiecki is in the final stages of an MA in photography at the University of the Arts, London.

His work lies between documentary and fine art, often focusing on portraiture and telling stories that also reveal his identity, and his experiences of growing up in Long Beach. The colours and floral background create a painting-like quality, highlighting the mysticism of the subjects and their association with a history that many may find unfamiliar.

Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein
Tilly and Itty Beitar Illit are sisters, from the series Bei Mir Bistu Shein and was adjudged as deserving the third prize © Kovi Konowiecki

Konowiecki explains: "When I set out to photograph the faces of Orthodox Jews around the world, it was an attempt to both strengthen my ties to my family's history and shed light on the traditions of a people that seem strange to modern society. The project started by contacting members of the Jewish community from where I grew up, and evolved into travels across the world to capture Orthodox Jews who, although they live thousands of miles apart, are bound together by history, tradition and a set of values that serve as the cornerstone of the lives of many who live in today's society."

Frances by Josh Redman © Josh Redman
Frances won Josh Redman the John Kobal portrait prize presented to an emerging photographer © Josh Redman

The John Kobal New Work Award has been awarded to Josh Redman for his photograph Frances, from an on-going series of pared down studio portraits. Redman says, "This was Frances's first serious photo shoot, and it's an honour to have been part of her initiation into modelling at age 83. During the 3-hour sitting we chatted over pastries about her late husband, the War, her lifelong job as a typist and her daughter Tineka."

Born in the UK in 1984, Redman was a sculptor and potter until 2012 when he decided to sell his kiln, buy a camera and move to London. Since then he has worked as a freelance photographer, winning the AOP Assistant Award in 2014 and has been commissioned by Adidas, SKY TV and The British Museum amongst others.

The John Kobal New Work Award is presented to a photographer aged under 35 whose work has been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. The winner receives a cash prize of £5,000 and includes undertaking a commission to photograph a sitter connected with the UK film industry for the gallery's collection.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 is on from 17 November 2016 – 26 February 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.