The horse fair where gypsy girls try to get hitched

PUBLISHED: 16:44 21 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:41 07 September 2010

From Kate Elliott's Gypsy Horse Fair series

From Kate Elliott's Gypsy Horse Fair series

Highgate snapper Kate Elliott s award winning photos give an insight into life at a horse fair where girls go to seek a marriage partner Last year, the fascinating Tate exhibition How We Are: Photographing Britain generated huge interest in portrait and

Highgate snapper Kate Elliott's award winning photos give an insight into life at a horse fair where girls go to seek a marriage partner

Last year, the fascinating Tate exhibition How We Are: Photographing Britain generated huge interest in portrait and documentary photography. These are the twin specialities of Highgate photographer Kate Elliott whose atmospheric image of a gypsy girl on horseback is in the exhibition for the National Portrait Gallery's Photographic Portrait Prize 2007.

It was one of the 60 portraits selected from a record 6,900 submissions from photographers around the world. Tonight there's a tour of the portraits with Marc Woodhead, giving an insight into the judging process and reasons for selection. The winner of the £12,000 prize was Israeli-born Jonathan Torgovnik, for a portrait of a rape victim in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Kate Elliott submitted two photographs, both taken at a horse fair at Stow in Gloucestershire which she has been photographing for the last three years. About the subject of the winning entry she says, "She epitomizes what the girls are like at that age, the way she carries herself. Trading happens early on and I assume her family had just bought the horse and she's riding it through the fair - it's like a catwalk for horse and rider."

The event, mainly for Irish travellers, also acts as an unofficial marriage fair, with separate groups of boys and girls, the latter dressed to show off their charms and wealth. Kate's second NPG submission was a line-up displaying the fashions of 2007. "Even though it was freezing and raining, they had bare midriffs," says Kate.

She had higher hopes for this entry because it seemed in line with the NPG's predilection for stylized set-up shots, but was delighted that one succeeded, given the odds. Both have a sense of the exotic, bringing us in a flash into a world we are unlikely to experience without a photographer as intermediary.

Kate has been interested in photography for as long as she can remember, certainly dating back to what she calls her "Robert Doisneau moment" at 7. She met the legendary French photographer, indeed sat on his knee, at his exhibition at Oxford's Museum of Modern Art when her father was Director.

Though childhood diaries record her ambition to be a photographer, she took a degree in Scandinavian Studies. However, when studying in Denmark aged 19, fate took a hand as she was given a room in college above a darkroom. She is now taking an MA in photography part-time at the London College of Communication, formerly the London College of Printing.

Among her current interests are photographing female to male transgendered communities and London's cab shelters. She finances her studies and these projects by corporate and editorial work, with interiors for architectural companies as a specialism.

Kate finds Nan Goldin an inspirational contemporary photographer and cited advice from her that seems worth keeping in mind, even if you are simply an amateur: "Never let your conditions stop you from taking a photograph."

Until February 24 at NPG, St Martin's Place WC2. £1 admission includes tickets for tonight's tour at 7pm, for which places are first come, first served.

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