Margarita Teichroeb, a Mennonite, pictured by Jordi Ruiz Cirera

London College of Communication (LCC) is proud to announce that MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography graduate Jordi Ruiz Cirera has been awarded The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery.

The award-winning photograph is a portrait of Margarita Teichroeb, a woman from the religious Mennonite community in Bolivia where photography is forbidden.

It was part of a long term project by Ruiz Cirera, portraying the daily life of this religious community. Having travelled to South America on two occasions, Ruiz Cirera gradually won the trust of the residents of several colonies located south of Santa Cruz.

The Mennonites’ uneasy relationship with the camera is reflected in the winning portrait. ‘I wanted Margarita to look at the camera, but that was a problem for her, and I guess that’s why she is partially covering her face,’ Ruiz Cirera said in an interview with the National Portrait Gallery. ‘She seems to be afraid of the photographer, unwilling to expose herself to our gaze. Her awkward expression says a lot about the tradition, isolation and lifestyle of this community.’

Since some Mennonites consider photographs to be a form of graven image, Ruiz Cirera struggled to break down their aversion to the lens. ‘It was a really difficult project,’ he recalls. ‘They were willing to host me in their homes, but they weren’t initially willing to be pictured. In some cases, it is forbidden. I stayed there for a month, living with different families, then returned a year later during my master at LCC. That’s when most of my pictures were taken.’

The £12,000 award was presented to the London-based Spanish photographer at the National Portrait Gallery, London, last night (Monday 5 November 2012). The winning portrait goes on show at the Gallery from Thursday 8 November 2012.

Ruiz Cirera has also this year won the Association of Photographers Student Award as well as the Deutsche Bank Award in Photography.

– The Taylor Wessing photographic prize exhibition is at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November to 17 February

– LCC 2012 Postgraduate photography courses display their final work as part of the LCC Postgraduate Shows 2012, from 19 Nov – 9 Jan 2013