The winner of the Taylor Wessing portrait prize has recently been announced. His name is David Stewart and his portrait of his daughter and her friends after their graduation won. The picture is called “Five Girls” and it is quite simple—five girls sitting at a wooden table, with their coffee cups, phones and small, half-eaten salads all over the table. There is a sort of calming symmetry to the photo, and all the girls are looking in different directions. There is also a sort of social commentary attached to the photo, which may have won Stewart his first prize.
The thing that draws me to the photo is that all of these girls look like people I would see out at a coffee shop, or in the mall. They look like regular girls, the kind of girls that I could even see myself interacting with. They also look so… distant. And it struck me as familiar, because sometimes, whenever I get together with my friends and we are all sitting together at a restaurant, or on the couch about to watch a movie, we look like this. Our phones are out, we are with each other, but we are not really with each other.
Stewart said of his portrait, “While the girls are physically very close and their style and clothing highlight their membership of the same peer group, there is an element of distance between them." And I think that a replica of this image can be seen almost anywhere in modern society. Take a trip to the mall? You’ll see people in the exact same position as the girls in his photo. Go to a restaurant? You may see a group of girls sitting precisely how Stewart has his daughter and her friends situated.
I have both seen and been a part of what the girls are doing in David Stewart’s winning portrait. I have been one of those girls, sitting at that table, neither caring nor trying to care about the people sitting next to me because I was so wrapped up in my own life and drama. And I have also seen, too many times to count, people who are together physically, but apart in every way that matters.
People don’t talk. They don’t interact anymore. There is no general sense of community, because community is now achieved through a screen. These are the messages that David Stewart is trying to convey with his photograph—and he does it well.
There is a strict policy about computer and personal phone use for clients at Brookhaven Retreat, LLC. This is to encourage full and total attention to the comprehensive program that Brookhaven Retreat has to offer, and also to help the ladies create a community that helps and encourages them when they feel down.
Community is a very important thing when it comes to getting healthy. Psuedo-community, the type that is displayed in Stewart’s portrait, does not encourage health or closeness with people. It encourages isolation, even in the midst of a group of people. At Brookhaven Retreat, there is a lasting community filled with women who all want to help one another to achieve their best, healthiest selves.