Month: February 2019

Carly Clarke on documenting a life-changing journey

© Carly Clarke, from Reality Trauma

For Carly Clarke, whose self-portrait Last Day of Chemotherapy was shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2018, photography is a lifeline

Documentary photographer Carly Clarke has shot a remarkable array of subjects. One of her projects explores the modern epidemic of India’s ‘forgotten elders’, a generation neglected and abused by their adult children. An earlier project, in contrast, explores the lighter topic of a Sussex brewery, while a third gives a behind-the-scenes view of a group of UK fishermen at work. Though her subjects differ hugely, the common thread is Clarke’s fascination with the way communities live across the globe.

Clarke creates her most compelling portraits, however, when she turns the camera on herself. Last Day of Chemotherapy, the image that was shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2018, is part of her series Reality Trauma. Clarke started the series after being diagnosed with cancer, and the result is an unflinchingly honest stage-by-stage account of her chemotherapy treatment. This deeply personal, contemplative work, is proof of Clarke’s absolute dedication to photography, the art form that gave her hope during an extremely challenging time.

© Carly Clarke, from Reality Trauma

The image that was shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2018 is a self-portrait taken from your series Reality Trauma, which documents your experience of chemotherapy. Why did you want to photograph this process?

At the time of my diagnosis I was in my final year of studying Photography at Middlesex University. While I was overwhelmed with chemotherapy and the idea of possibly dying, I felt a need to record my journey and to document my life as it changed so drastically. Chemotherapy takes you to the very edge. I wasn’t sure if I would make it through, but I knew that my passion for photography would keep me focused while I endured the hardest time of my life.

The project was partly about coming to terms with my new identity. My image became unfamiliar, almost alien, as I lost my hair and so much weight. It was extremely difficult to face myself when I no longer recognised the person in the mirror, and some visitors in the hospital were even afraid to look at me.

The day I shot Last Day of Chemotherapy, I’d been rushed to hospital in excruciating pain because of an infection. I struggled to even lift my camera because of the pain, and the drugs I was on made it hard to think clearly. It was a defining end to chemotherapy and to my life-changing journey.

© Carly Clarke, from Reality Trauma

Your projects are extremely diverse. What draws you to a subject?

I’m driven to tell stories about the human condition, identity, different cultures, and anthropology.

Finding current social issues that need attention is what really drives me. I like to get deeply involved, to get to know people personally, and to try to document an important issue from an insider’s perspective. For my project Remember Me: Vancouver’s DTES, I photographed people living on the streets in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. For most of the people I encountered, addiction played a major role in why they were there. I told the story from their perspective, without judgment, and without altering the truth.

Why do you think Portrait of Britain is important today?

There are so many talented photographers struggling to find work or to be given an opportunity that can prove they have what it takes to work in editorial or documentary photography. It’s hard to balance a regular job and to also work on personal projects full time. If there are more platforms like Portrait of Britain, there are more opportunities for exposure, which can result in commissions or exhibitions and means that photographers can dedicate more time to creating new work.

© Carly Clarke, from Godhūlikāla: India’s Forgotten Elders

What do you think we’ll see in Portrait of Britain 2019?

I’m sure there will be a number of outstanding portraits that shed light on Britain’s huge divide as Brexit develops. I’m also expecting work on other topics, such as climate change, looking not just at how that affects the UK, but how that impacts globally.

What have you been doing since you were shortlisted? How has it boosted your career?

I have worked on the set of a movie called Summerland, which will be released this year. I won some honorable mentions in the International Photo Awards 2018 for my work Jamadagni’s Temple: The Real Full Moon Festival, which is set in the tribal village of Malana, India. And most recently, I had an article about me and my work Godhūlikāla: India’s Forgotten Elders, published in Luxembourg’s Contacto newspaper.

I’m currently finishing off a project with my younger brother, Joe, who was diagnosed with the same cancer as me, Stage 2b Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, last year. Thankfully, he is mostly clear and has now finished chemotherapy. I’m also trying to get funding to continue Godhūlikāla: India’s Forgotten Elders, because I’ve only touched the surface of such a pressing issue.

Further down the line I’d love to continue photographing tribal villages around the world, and to educate people about their unique cultures.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering Portrait of Britain 2019?

Life is too short to not give it a try, especially if you are serious about photography. Portrait of Britain gives you the opportunity to get feedback on your work from industry professionals, meet interesting people, have your work on display across the country and possibly boost your career.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is now closed for entries! Read about previous winners here.

© Carly Clarke, from Jamadagni’s Temple: The Real Full Moon Festival
Joe’s first Week of Chemotherapy © Carly Clarke

“Incredible and inspiring”: stories of success from Portrait of Britain

© Arabelle Zhuang

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries. Now in its fourth year, the groundbreaking award has grown an enormous following both at home and abroad; last year, it was featured across international media outlets, from The Guardian to Sky News. Portrait of Britain is now the largest exhibition of its kind in the UK, and each year 100 winning images are displayed on outdoor screens right across the country, with 200 shortlisted images collated into a Portrait of Britain book. Calling for portraits that capture the face of a nation in a historic moment, the award is set apart by both its unique scale and its timely subject matter.

The kind of exposure that Portrait of Britain brings is invaluable for photographers. But how does it actually feel be included in the biggest exhibition of contemporary portrait photography the UK has ever seen? To have your work celebrated in the press and on TV? And to be featured in a hardback book that people across the globe will cherish for years?

We spoke to some of our previous Portrait of Britain winners and shortlisted photographers, to find out how being part of the award has boosted their confidence and catapulted their careers.

Arabelle Zhuang, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist

“It was an honour to be part of Portrait of Britain 2018. To be able to be among such amazing photographers, some that I’ve looked up to for a while, has been incredible and inspiring. It has really encouraged me to continue making work  I’m passionate about and to create imagery that shows diversity and emotion.”

© William Marsden

William Marsden, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist

“Since Portrait of Britain, I’ve done work for Wonderland Magazine, Audi Magazine, Rake’s Progress and The Jackal Magazine. I’ve also been commissioned to do a shoot for Google, and I recently signed to the new photography department at Academy Films. As my commercial career has started to take off, being able to say I was part of Portrait of Britain 2018 has helped me to stand out.”

© Andrea Zvadova

Andrea Zvadova, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner

“Being part of Portrait of Britain was obviously an amazing feeling. I am very glad that my image had a chance to be shown all around the UK alongside so many other excellent photographs – each telling their own stories.”

© Kovi Konowiecki

Kovi Konowiecki, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner

“Being part of such a widespread exhibition was very exciting, especially knowing that my work was being seen by millions of people across the UK. Photography exhibitions are usually pretty intimate, but Portrait of Britain allows viewers to engage with photography in a different way. The exhibition really brings the diversity of Britain to the fore.

Many of my friends sent me photos of my image in bus stops and train stations on their way to work, which was pretty special. Having my work published in the first Portrait of Britain photo book was also special, as it allowed people to take something physical home with them that they can always go back to.

I have a solo exhibition coming up and several books on the way. Portrait of Britain has been a great platform for people to see my work, and it has opened doors for me with curators and publishers.”

© Murat Ozkasim

Hasan Murat Ozkasim, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist

“Being published in the Portrait of Britain book gives a certain authority to my work when I present it to galleries, which has led to all kinds of opportunities. At the moment I’m involved in two projects, Submissive State or Submissiveness and Sensual Desires of Disabled People (in collaboration with Zebedee Models) which is already gaining global exposure, including a feature on the Italian Vanity Fair website!”

© Piotr Karpinski

Piotr Karpinski, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner

“It was a great experience to be a part of such a cool project. It boosted my productivity, and gave me extra drive to work on other projects, which is vital for a freelancer.

I was working on my project Immortals at the time, which is now finished. The last picture of the series is currently hanging in the Saatchi Gallery as part of Saatchi Screen Project.”

© Amara Eno

Amara Eno, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner

“It was really exciting to have my work exhibited in so many places at once. The biggest highlight for me was having people send over sightings of my portrait all over the UK – the furthest documented point was up in Scotland!

Portrait of Britain also had such a positive effect on my subjects, and the project the portrait belongs to, The 25 Percent, which explores the landscape of single parenthood in the UK today. It’s really encouraged me to keep making work that empowers communities and elevates the voices of those who feel underrepresented in society. I’m now in the early stages of some new projects that have stemmed from The 25 Percent!”

© Iringo Demeter

Iringo Demeter, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist

“The competition has such a varied audience. It was a great opportunity to reflect on what I value most in my work and what is relevant to the public.

With the images I submitted, both of mothers breastfeeding their children, my aim was to share very intimate moments of being human. Breastfeeding has become a widely and more openly debated subject recently, and I hope my image added something valuable to that conversation.”

© Eliska Kyselkova

Eliska Kyselkova, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner

“Portrait of Britain is an amazing competition, mapping the diverse cultures and people of Britain through photography, which feels even more relevant in difficult times of Brexit negotiations. It was very exciting to be part of it.

My portrait got amazing press coverage. It was featured by The BBC, The Guardian and, and was published in British Journal of Photography, in the Portrait of Britain book and on JCDecaux screens around UK. This helped me to meet people across the photography community and to reach out to new clients. Most of all, it gave me the confidence to continue with my work.”

© Jay Bing

Jay Bing, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist

“It was an honour to be a part of something that brought together so many creative, talented individuals. Gaining exposure through Portrait of Britain provided me with both networking connections and motivation to continue my project. I am working on a body of work that explores the vernacular of rural skateparks in Great Britain. I started the project 2 years ago and hope to mark its completion at the end of 2019 with the release of my first self-published book.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is now closed for entries! Read about previous winners here.

Calling all photographers to enter Portrait of Britain 2019

© Maja Daniels, Portrait of Britain Shortlist, 2018

“These magnificent photographs capture at once the great diversity and the inescapable identity of the British people,” writes Will Self, in his introduction to the Portrait of Britain 2018 book, “Gay, straight, bisexual and non-normative; male, female and non-binary; old, young and in between – how can it be that these – every one a compelling identity in its own right — are nonetheless trumped by a Britishness as heavy and irresistible as a Dundee fruit cake?”

Portrait of Britain – the biggest, most inclusive photography event in the country – is back. Now in its fourth edition, the award will again culminate in a nationwide exhibition, with the winning images displayed on JCDecaux screens in public spaces across the country. Following the success of the Portrait of Britain book, which we created for the first time last year, we will compile 200 shortlisted images into a book, to be published by Hoxton Mini Press and distributed across the globe.

© Anthony Lycett, Portrait of Britain Winner, 2018

Since its inception in 2016, Portrait of Britain’s profile has grown exponentially. Last year it appeared across the media, featuring in The Guardian, The Independent and even on international TV channel Sky News. It also welcomed a staggering 13,000 entries. It’s clear that this exhibition, which centres on the huge and fascinating subject of British identity, has caught the imagination of the public.

Portrait of Britain was originally conceived against the backdrop of the Brexit referendum. In its first year, we wanted to get behind the statistics and see real-life people responding to this seismic change in the country’s political landscape – some with jubilation, some with dismay, and others with indifference.

© Thomas Dryden Kelsey, Portrait of Britain Shortlist, 2018

Three years on, and as Brexit draws closer, public opinion remains polarised – which is why Portrait of Britain is more crucial now than ever. We don’t want to show a nation divided; instead, we want to see the unique, eccentric, resilient British spirit that prevails in turbulent times.

Last year’s shortlisted photographs showed us a vibrant cross-section of life in Britain. We saw newborns and ninety-somethings, nuns and bikers, artists and Olympic athletes. We even saw a progressive Morris dancer. It may seem that we’ve captured it all, but we know there are more fascinating stories out there waiting to be told. Which remarkable people will you introduce us to this year? How can you surprise us?

If you have an image that captures something unique about Britain today, we want to hear from you. Future generations will look to Portrait of Britain 2019 to see the face of a nation in a time of momentous change. What do you want them to see?

Portrait of Britain 2019 is now closed for entries! Read about previous winners here.

© Rachel Adams, Portrait of Britain Shortlist, 2018
© Jonathan Ford, Portrait of Britain Shortlist, 2018
© Verity Adriana, Portrait of Britain Shortlist, 2018

A Portrait of Britain: 20 years of farming

Gavin from the series 20 Years of Farming © Harry Borden

Harry Borden’s winning image from Portrait of Britain 2017 is a testament to the farming community he grew up in

Acclaimed portrait photographer Harry Borden has captured an array of iconic subjects including Robin Williams, Ewan McGregor, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. His ongoing personal projects focus on subjects that particularly resonate with him and include Single Parent Dads and Holocaust Survivors, which was published as a photobook and shortlisted for the European Publishers Award for Photography in 2017.

Borden has received numerous awards for his work and been exhibited internationally, including a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, who now hold many of his works in their permanent collection.

Borden’s selected photograph for Portrait of Britain 2017 is taken from his series 20 Years of Farming, which documents the community of farmers in which he grew up, existing as both a testament to this trade and a reminder of his childhood. Depicting Gavin, a champion sheep shearer, Borden’s image captures his friend two decades after he originally photographed him after first moving to London.

How did you create your selected portrait (above) and what is the story behind it?

My dad was a farmer and I grew up on his pig farm. The farm dominated our lives; feeding and cleaning 70 sows is a job without end! When I first moved to London to work as a photographer, I made a series of 10 portraits of my farming friends. In 2014, 20 years later, I returned to photograph them again.

Farming is one of the few occupations that remain relatively unaffected by technology. While most of us feel our lives becoming more chaotic, farming is not only a path of certainty but also a trade.  These men know exactly what they will be doing until they are simply no longer physically able to continue and that is both wonderful and terrifying.

Gavin, the subject of my selected portrait, is a champion sheep shearer and works freelance, travelling around farms in his pick-up. I shot his portrait on a Hasselblad digital camera whilst he was working for another farmer I know, Gary Palfrey.

© Harry Borden

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

Consider the theme of the exhibition when submitting: all three of my selected images for Portrait of Britain 2017 depict people who are part of the fabric of life in Britain today.

My love of portrait photography grew out of looking at the work of photographic masters such as Irving Penn and Diane Arbus and continued to evolve as I began photographing my family and friends. My simple advice would be to just take a lot of pictures. The more portraits you take, the more comfortable you feel entering people’s lives and making a visual record of them through photography.

Tony with Louise and Emma © Harry Borden

What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?

Intimacy. I try to make all of my portraits a record of the relationship I developed with my subject on the day. What I’m hoping to create is something authentic and true. I’m not interested in technique.  One must have control over the medium but it is important not to simply ‘stamp’ people with a photographic style.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences you’ve had whilst shooting portraits?

Photographing icons such as Baroness Thatcher.  This was a shoot that I thought would never happen. I was simply too young to photograph her in her prime. As the first female UK Prime Minister, she loomed so large over my childhood and then politically radicalised my generation. So, although I wasn’t her number one fan, it was humbling to see the Iron Lady succumbing, as we all must, to human frailty.

What do you think about the Portrait of Britain project?

It’s a great showcase for contemporary photography and a historic social document of 21st century Britain.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

© Harry Borden

Janey © Harry Borden

A Portrait of Britain: I wanted to give a face to the girl I was and the girls who are

Alice Being Inbetween 01 December 13, 2015 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

Carolyn Mendelsohn’s selected portrait is part of her ongoing series Being Inbetween, which explores the complex transition between girlhood and young adulthood.

Carolyn Mendelsohn is a portrait photographer and filmmaker based in the UK. Her most recognisable body of work, Being Inbetween, is a continually evolving series of portraits of girls aged between ten and twelve. The work arises from Mendelsohn’s own memories of this age, and the desire to give a voice to this undefinable age-group. Using short interviews and powerful portraits, Mendelsohn reveals each of the girls’ identities, telling us stories about the young women of tomorrow.

Mendelsohn describes the series as partly collaborative; she lets her subjects choose how they are represented, from picking their outfits to how they should stand. Her selected photograph for Portrait of Britain 2017 depicts 10-year-old Alice, who stares indomitably into the camera, evoking a classical painting. The image is an account of female strength and its many forms.

Aaisha Being Inbetween 01 May 01, 2016 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

How did you create your selected portrait, and what was the story behind it?

The portrait of Alice is from my long-term project Being Inbetween. Before the sitting, Alice had filled out and returned a simple form with questions about her age, school, hobbies and ambitions. I invited her to come to the sitting in clothes of her choice, and to think about how she would like to be seen. It was important that everything was her choice, without intervention from parents or guardians. I want my subjects to feel an equal part of the portrait process, from their clothing choices to how they will stand. In person, Alice is unassuming and very self-composed. She was amazing to shoot, and I loved that what came out in her portrait was serenity underpinned by her power.

The portrait was part of your ongoing series, Being Inbetween. What were your aims for that series?

I have been working on Being Inbetween for over three years. Girls of this age are often marketed to as ‘tweens’ and seen as a group. They become invisible as individuals. They are bombarded with advertising and marketing, and it is vital that this marketing doesn’t come to define who they are, or who they are to become. They are at a vulnerable stage and are often hidden within the cocoon of familial protection until they emerge as young women.

The series is a way of giving a voice and face to the girl I was and the girls who are; a way to explore the hidden complexity, duality and contradictions that mark this phase of life. I want to continue to exhibit the series, and I hope it will culminate in the publication of a book. My intention was, and still is, to create a portrait that is devoid of distractions, so the emphasis is on the subject.

Heavens Being Inbetween 01 July 24, 2016 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

How has the project developed since your photograph was selected for Portrait of Britain?

Having the photograph selected for Portrait of Britain was such an wonderful experience and privilege. Seeing ‘Alice’ and the other portraits displayed across the country was a joy. I got such pleasure from people sharing their mobile shots of where they saw her. People contacted me because they had seen it, and had then researched where the portrait came from. I loved the way the work was exhibited – the reach was huge. The exposure created lots of new opportunities. It has given me more confidence to show the work to curators and specialists, and has resulted in some new opportunities.

Being Inbetween is currently on show as a solo exhibition at the Crossley Gallery in Halifax. The exhibition runs until 20 May. In 2019, the series is being exhibited at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. Another exciting spin off is that I have been contacted by an artist’s representative who is exploring the possibility of exhibiting the work in Singapore. I am still continuing to hold portrait sittings, and am focusing on girls whose faces and voices are underrepresented in the series so far.

What do you think makes a compelling portrait?

For me, a compelling portrait often elicits an emotional reaction from the viewer. It draws you in, and has an honesty to it that makes you want to know more about the subject, their life and their story. It is much much more than a pretty picture, but rather one that elicits questions rather than provides all the answers. As a portrait photographer, if I can create a connection with my subject, then that connection will enable me to take a more compelling portrait.

Maria Being Inbetween 01 August 14, 2016 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

If you are interested in people and curious about the worlds they live in, portrait photography is the perfect vehicle for exploring the world. When I first started taking portraits I became obsessed with it. I am so curious about how people are, and why they do and feel certain things, and there is real beauty in the stillness of portraiture. Set yourself projects, and then get your camera out and take pictures. You will learn through the doing. Most importantly, connect with your subject, talk to them, listen to them, ask them questions, find out more about them. They are the focus, and you and your camera become the vehicle through which to tell their story.

I think entering competitions like Portrait of Britain gives you the opportunity to really examine and consider your own work. It gives you the chance to edit and select from your portfolio, which is a skill in itself. It’s impossible to second guess what the selectors may choose, so don’t try to please them, rather select a portrait that you love and that perhaps says something about the country we live in. When I enter something, I do it for the exercise of entering, not for the winning. Remember that it’s an opportunity to show your work to a panel of experts, and even if the work isn’t selected, maybe they will remember it.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

Sadie Being Inbetween 01 November 05, 2017 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

Caitlin Being Inbetween 01 February 15, 2016 © Carolyn Mendelsohn 2017

A Portrait of our National Health Service

© Lewis Khan

Lewis Khan’s selected portrait for Portrait of Britain 2017 was taken as part of a series produced during an artist residency at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital

Lewis Khan is a London-based photographer and filmmaker specialising in social documentary. Since graduating from UWE in Bristol, where he studied photography, he has won the 2014 Shuffle Film Festival Short Film Prize for his moving portrayal of George, a man living on the fringes of South London. He has also worked on commissions for a number of well-respected publications, including the FT Weekend Magazine.

Khan’s photograph that was selected for Portrait of Britain 2017 depicts his subject, Gina, in an operating theatre after performing surgery. The portrait was taken during Khan’s time as Artist in Residence at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. During this residency, he produced a series called ‘Our NHS’, which documented the experiences of staff and patients at the hospital. The images seek to capture the emotional impact of a life spent working in the NHS, particularly during this time of difficulty within the service. Gina’s portrait is a compelling insight into the experiences of the doctors and nurses striving to keep the NHS on its feet.

© Lewis Khan

How did you create the selected portrait that you entered into Portrait of Britain, and what is the story behind it?

The selected portrait was taken in an operating theatre at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital just after an operation had finished and the staff had cleaned and prepped the room for the next patient. Gina gave me a few precious minutes and sat for this portrait in the corner of the theatre.

Was the portrait part of a wider project? If so, can you tell me about the project? How has it developed since your photograph was selected for Portrait of Britain?

The portrait is from a series produced during an artist residency at The Chelsea &  Westminster Hospital. I worked on a commission for the hospital arts charity CW+, creating some artwork for the hospital walls. Following that they invited me to work on a more long term self-initiated project within the hospital itself. I spent 18 months on and off embedding myself into clinical situations within the hospital, producing a series that explores ideas around strength and fragility.

© Lewis Khan

How do you think you have benefited from being selected?

Being selected for Portrait of Britain was great, it provided a platform for my work to be seen by a new audience both inside and outside of the photographic community. The visual landscape of the public domain is so clogged up with advertising, the idea of appropriating those spaces for the dissemination of artwork I thought was really strong.

Can you tell us a bit about the new project you’ve been working on?

I’ve been working on a project recently that takes as its starting point the experience of loss, and subsequently belonging. The work is a web of associations, bringing together new and past images that were originally taken for a mix of intents and purposes.

© Lewis Khan

How do you choose and work with subjects to achieve your final image?

This really depends on lots of varying factors, I don’t have a set practical formula that I work to. Generally a portrait will be the result of some kind of relationship or interaction, so it’s more that initial or sustained engagement with a person that I am looking for rather than the picture itself.

What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?

I feel like you can’t show too much, there has to be a balance of what you can read into the image and what you don’t know.

© Lewis Khan

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

Portrait photography is a very particular way of experiencing the people and environment around you. The photographs that result are the product of the relationship between yourself and your subject. The strength that the relationship gives your images shouldn’t be overlooked in a rush to take pictures.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

© Lewis Khan

Diversifying the Traditional Group Portrait

Harrods Chefs © Frederic Aranda

Frederic Aranda is a photographer specializing in group portraiture. His work has twice been selected for Portrait of Britain, with both his winning images standing out for their dramatic feel and quirky composure. Aranda works against the grain. His images shirk traditionally hierarchical, staid forms of group portraiture, and aim for naturalism and diversity.

Aranda was born in Switzerland but moved to the UK twenty years ago, initially to study Japanese at Oxford. A completely self-taught photographer, Aranda has since worked for a number of high-profile publications, including Vanity Fair and Vogue. He has also been shortlisted by The Times as Young Photographer of the Year, and his first photobook, Electric Fashion, was published by Skira in 2015, and launched at the V&A. Since being selected for Portrait of Britain, Aranda has won first prize for editorial in the Swiss Photo Award, for his portfolio of group projects.

Young Family © Frederic Aranda

How did you create the selected portraits that you entered into Portrait of Britain 2016, and what are the stories behind them?

I had two images selected: a young family at home in London and a group portrait of the chefs and sous-chefs working at Harrods. Both were commissions, one private and one an editorial for Harrods Magazine. For the private commission, instead of taking a conventional family portrait, I photographed the family with the mess their children had made while playing at home. So many people who see that image tell me how their home looks like that on a daily basis. To me, that’s a true family portrait.

For the photograph of the chefs at Harrods, I composed the group in their top floor restaurant. The aim was to bring them all together for the first time, to show customers who the people are behind the scenes. On the day, we decided to ignore hierarchies and to mix all of them up by placing some of the sous-chefs in more prominent positions than their bosses. Sous-chefs are the next generation and need to be pushed into the spotlight more. When some of them struggled, I told them: “Imagine you’re George Clooney. How would he sit in that chair?”

Archivists and Librarians, Vanity Fair UK © Frederic Aranda

Were the portraits part of wider series? If so, can you tell me about those series?

All of my group portraits are part of an ongoing project spanning fifteen years. The aim of that project is to explore the power of groups to present social realities. Certain things about us only become clear once we are placed in a group dynamic; there are lots of things that portraits of individuals cannot convey.

Portrait of Britain made me look at and assess my work more objectively. I noticed that in cases where I had control over the casting of my groups, the images were diverse, but in cases where I has no control over the casting of my groups, I’d been confronted with the lack of diversity in certain industries.

I have realised that diversity and representation is essential in order to shake things up, and by contrast, the lack of diversity in some spaces can feel incredibly stuck in the past. It is the job of the photographer to show diversity, or a lack of it. For example, at British Vogue in the last few months, my group portrait of the previous editorial team created a public outcry. The lack of diversity at British Vogue has now thankfully changed with Edward Enninful as the new editor in chief.

British Vogue © Frederic Aranda

How do you think you have benefited from being selected for Portrait of Britain?

Portrait of Britain gave me the chance to discuss my portraiture with people who had never paid attention to it before. For a whole month, the portraits were omnipresent in the streets so people had more time to contemplate them, instead of consuming them quickly on social media.

Portrait of Britain also helped me to think more about what I was doing with my group portraits, and after submitting a small portfolio of 8 images on this theme to the Swiss Photo Award this year, I won first prize in the Editorial category, which is wonderful!

The Vogue Editors © Frederic Aranda

Are you working on any new projects?

I’m working on my next portraiture book on the theme of California, which will be published next year, together with my co-author Christine Suppes. In the current political climate, California is a beacon of hope, but it is not without its own troubles.

What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?

I often find that some of the most compelling images are iconic in their simplicity, for example, Vanessa Paradis’ ad campaign for Coco Chanel in 1992 by Jean-Paul Goude. The portraits of her in a birdcage or spilling a giant bottle of perfume over her shoulder are deceptively simple, but their simplicity makes them iconic because of all the things that the photographer has decided not to show.

A portrait is also compelling if it appears to reveal something truthful, or provokes your imagination without giving you all the answers. I often find myself looking at Henri Cartier Bresson’s images and I forget that I am looking at a photograph at all, because I’m imagining these people’s lives and what they were preoccupied by at the time. The fact that he doesn’t give those answers is truly fascinating.

The Lady Garden © Frederic Aranda

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

Shoot things that interest you and make you respond emotionally, and the rest will follow. Make sure you don’t try and second-guess what you think others will want to see.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

Master Watchmakers, Vanity Fair UK © Frederic Aranda

Harry Flook on shooting a compelling portrait

Harry Flook’s selected portrait for Portrait of Britain 2017 is a test for his ongoing series ‘Apostate’, which documents people who have abandoned their religious faiths

Harry Flook is a Bristol-based writer and photographer, whose photographic work is rooted in his personal experiences. Having left his own religious faith, he embarked on ‘Apostate’, a project photographing those who had done the same, and he stumbled across a vast community of ex-religious individuals while doing so. Making this work then culminated in another project, ‘Beyond What is Written’, set in the heart of ‘bible belt’ America and addressing the subject from a different perspective. Both series explore the concept of community outside religion, for people whose sense of community was once constructed by the religious groups they were a part of.

Harry entered a portrait from ‘Apostate’ into Portrait of Britain 2017, and it was displayed across the country as part of our nationwide exhibition. We spoke to Harry about the value of awkwardness, choosing the perfect subject, and creating a compelling portrait.

Ian, Ex-Pastor, From the series Apostate © Harry Flook

How did you create your selected portrait, and what was the story behind it?

This portrait was shot as a test for a project I’m still working on, ‘Apostate’. The image was shot outside using natural light and a reflector against a portable backdrop. I was trying to find a visual style that I could use consistently for the project, and this was one of the images that came together as a standalone portrait.

The portrait was a test for your ongoing series, ‘Apostate’. How has that project developed since your photograph was selected for Portrait of Britain?

‘Apostate’ is about my experience leaving the religious faith I grew up with, explored through conversations with others who had done the same. I found a whole community of ex-religious individuals in the UK from various faiths, many with similar and far more difficult stories than my own. Since this portrait, I have realised that apostasy, as it’s known, is more common than I’d thought. Many people go through it silently. The project led me to shoot another body of work based in Tennessee, a state known as ‘the Heart of the Bible Belt’, where I spent a month photographing the non-religious community who are ostracised from the wider culture. That project is called ‘Beyond What is Written’.

Clive, Ex-Eucharistic Minister, From the series Apostate © Harry Flook

How do you think you have benefited from being selected?

I was selected during my final year at university, and it was the first real affirmation I’d had from the world of contemporary photography, beyond my tutors and friends. So aside from the obvious exposure, to be selected by British Journal of Photography really gave me the confidence to value my work, to knock on the doors of editors, and to get my graduate project published.

How do you choose and work with subjects to achieve your final image?

Choosing subjects really depends on the project I’m shooting. But when making standalone portraits, I’m certainly drawn to people who have striking features or an interesting story to tell.

I often feel slightly awkward shooting people’s portraits, and I sort of invite that feeling to begin with. I won’t direct the subject much initially, I’ll just get them to sit or stand, and take a few frames. Then I’ll begin to direct more heavily, ask the subject to look this way or that, maybe do something different with the light, and shoot slightly more posed frames, so I have a good variety to choose from.

From the series Beyond What is Written © Harry Flook

What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?

It’s hard to say what makes a good portrait. I find that once a formula is established, they can become trite and uninteresting. I was recently looking at people on a bus that had stopped at traffic lights. I wanted to stare but I felt awkward as people caught my gaze. It got me thinking about why we find portraits so compelling generally. I think it’s because they allow us a longer glance than social norms allow. Beyond that, it comes down to the way portraits are crafted visually, and the relationship between photographer and subject is always an interesting one; it has a huge influence on the outcome of a portrait.

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

Try to throw out your own attachment to images when submitting, and pay attention to which get the biggest reaction instead. I’m not saying to ignore your own taste completely, but you will be bias toward certain portraits because of your experience taking them, and your knowledge of where they sit in context to other work. When you’re submitting a portrait to be displayed on a billboard without any context other than being a Portrait of Britain, you want something with broader appeal. Social media is a great place to test for it.

When getting into portrait photography to begin with, make sure you shoot lots of portraits and try different approaches. It will help you find your niche. At first, I shot portraits without worrying about the work fitting into a project. I tried different cameras, formats, backdrops, lighting etc. The only way you’ll find your bag of tricks is to shoot lots and get lots of feedback.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

From the series Beyond What is Written © Harry Flook

Charlie Clift on the story behind his selected portrait

Charlie Clift’s selected work for Portrait of Britain 2017 captures literary great, Diana Athill, on her 98th birthday

London-based Charlie Clift has worked on commissions for a range of editorial and commercial clients including The BBC and The Sunday Times Magazine, and regularly works on campaigns for charities and not-for-profits. He is also committed to producing personal work, recently creating a collective portrait of British emigrants and a documentation of the individuals who worked to tackle the UK winter floods of 2013 & 14. His work has been included in numerous Awards, such as the Taylor Wessing Photo Prize, the Association of Photographers and Portrait of Britain.

Clift’s selected image for Portrait of Britain 2017 depicts the esteemed British literary editor, novelist and memoirist, Diana Athill OBE, at home on her 98th birthday. Photographing Athill with her eye’s closed was, for Clift, a way to capture the reflective side of Athill’s character.

How did you create your selected portrait (above) and what is the story behind it?

I always research people before photographing them and the more I read about Diana Athill the more fascinating I found her. I photographed the famous literary editor, novelist and memoirist for The Sunday Times Magazine at her residential home in North London. It was actually her 98th birthday the day we met, so we had some cake and champagne to celebrate.

After chatting about all the famous photographers who have shot her over the years, I thought I better prove myself worthy of her time. I spent an hour or so photographing Athill all over the house and we finally ended up in the library, where I had set up a little studio with a white backdrop.

Although I was commissioned to photograph Diana with her nephew Philip, I also wanted to capture a few images of her alone for myself. Diana is a wise and interesting woman to talk to, but she is also quite contemplative, so I thought it would be appropriate to ask her to close her eyes for a portrait. That is the photograph you see here – a fascinating woman in a moment of reflection.

© Charlie Clift

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit and, more generally, about getting into portrait photography to begin with?

It’s so difficult to choose your best work. I would say go with your gut feeling to start with. Choose the pictures you are most pleased with as the more you try to please others the less likely you are to choose the most unique work you’ve created. Once you have a narrow selection of photos ask someone whose taste you trust to help you make your final selection.

My advice to people getting into portrait photography is to shoot a lot of subjects. It might sound simple, but the more you do it the better you get. I must have taken millions of photographs of thousands of people and I’m still rarely happy with what I create.

Also, make time to shoot personal work, lots of it. I spend a great deal of time seeking out interesting people to photograph for my personal projects. Doing this has let me experiment with new ways of making images and given me the freedom to develop a personal style and approach.

Generally speaking, no one will commission you to do something until you’ve already done it, so get out there and make the images that you want to make. It’s only then that you’ll be asked to make more like them.

© Charlie Clift

What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?

A great portrait captures the subject’s personality and allows you to connect with that person. A portrait is strongest when it makes the viewer feel like they know the person in it. The most compelling portraits for me also capture the interaction between the photographer and their subject. A photo shoot is like a performance for both the sitter and photographer; I love it when you can feel that energy in the final image.

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences you’ve had whilst shooting portraits?

You never quite know what’s going to happen on a portrait shoot. However much advance planning you do, everything changes when you meet the person you are there to photograph. I love that element of spontaneity.

I photographed a lawyer called Raymond Tooth a little while back, I expected him to be very prim and proper and a bit boring to shoot. However, because I had read that he was a shark in the negotiating room I turned up with a silicone shark hat. I never thought he’d wear it, but he did and I made an amazing portrait of him in it.

Raymond Tooth, divorce lawyer, photographed in Mayfair, London © Charlie Clift

What do you think about the Portrait of Britain project?

Portrait of Britain is a wonderful idea. I love the fact that you’ve made art so public and put it on display for everyone to see. I also like how it shows the huge variety of people who live in Britain and celebrates that diversity through beautiful portraits.

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

© Charlie Clift

© Charlie Clift

How to shoot a perfect portrait: tips from Ali Mobasser, a Portrait of Britain 2016 winner

© Ali Mobasser

“Photography has the power to unite and create empathy,” says Ali Mobasser, one the winners of the first edition of Portrait of Britain

Born in Maryland, USA, in 1976 Ali Mobasser grew up an Iranian Londoner with an American passport; his photography deals with identity and displacement, among other things. After taking a BA in Fine Arts at Kingston University, he started work as a photographic assistant and picture editor in 2000, and then found his way into photography via commercial still life commissions. 

What makes a compelling portrait?

A sense of intimacy, vulnerability and most importantly, empathy – in the photographer, not the subject. I say this because I look at all my portraits as self-portraits. I project myself onto others to reflect my prejudices, fears, desires, or whatever else is coming out of me at that moment. The purest way to do this is to not plan the action but to carry a camera around with me on the streets while going about my day-to-day activities and allow fate to bring me to my subjects.

I have portraits of family and friends that have personal gravity due to my relationship with them, but it is the portraits of the unknowns that have the power to challenge and question me, and in turn do the same for viewers.

When did you fall in love with photography?

It wasn’t what you’d call love at first sight. Ever since my Fine Art days at college, I have snobbishly referred to photography as a tool. Our motto was to express our ideas with whatever medium suited the concept. After my BA I realised I didn’t have much to say as an artist, so to fill up the time it would take me to find something to say, I thought I’d learn more about photography. You could say we started going steady at that point and I had a good time assisting fashion and celebrity photographers during my 20s.

Then I saw the more serious side of image-making and did stints at Discovery Channel and BBC as a picture editor before starting work as a still life photographer and shooting ad campaigns. I can now say that as an artist, we have a marriage of convenience. I wouldn’t call it love because of her bad traits, amongst them commercialism, propaganda and the selfie, but I certainly have a lot of respect for the power photography possesses.

Gunnesbury Cemetery, London England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Gunnesbury Cemetery, London England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

The English Channel © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

The English Channel © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Could you tell us about an experience you’ve had while shooting portraits?

When I was 18 my grandfather passed away and his cherished Rolleiflex camera was handed down to me. There began a real love affair. It is a twin lens camera, so you have to look down into a box with a hooded mirror on top to see what is in front of you. The mirror reverses the world outside and, as you look down through it, it is almost as if you are in an alternate reality. It is a peculiar sight to see me walking around like this, and people often do not know what I am doing but inevitably become curious.

I use this to my advantage and am able to place myself in front of people I want to photograph. I will pan from side to side almost as though I am looking for something and in one of those brief pans, I will stop, focus and click the shutter, then continue to move the camera. Sometimes they do not register this moment, other times they do so I acknowledge it with a smile that is almost always returned. Other times a conversation starts, normally about the Rolleiflex or their father who used to own something similar.

Have you ever had any bad experiences while shooting?

“Did you just take my photo?” I wasn’t going to lie. “Yes, you look amazing”. She did. There started my routine of killing her with kindness, and nervous over-laughing and weird flirting – the only things I could muster up in that situation. It was shamelessly desperate and I really felt stupid to have put myself in that situation. She wanted me to delete the picture but I tried to explain that it was film, and that I was looking into a mirror not a digital screen. Luckily, at that moment, another traffic warden came along from across the road and pulled her away, and I continued with the nervous laugh and walked away feeling terrible.

What a horrible experience, and I was certain that I would not end up using the photo once I had developed the roll. Then many months later when making my edit, I decided to use it. It was no longer about how I had achieved the photograph or how the lady had reacted. It was now within the context of the rest of the body of work, and it almost seemed dishonest not to show this aggressive act or indeed talk about it now. Strangely though, it is that brief sense of infinite melancholy as she stares through me in the midst of the confrontation that gives the portrait its worth.

Finsbury, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

What do you think about the Portrait of Britain project?

Between 2014 and 2015 I embarked on a street photography project, including street portraits. Entering some of these street portraits into ‘Portrait of Britain’ felt like a natural thing to do. I wanted to add what I had observed into the pool of diversity from around the country. When done well, photography has the power to unite and create empathy, something that we, as photographers, should see as our obligation to the world. The theme connected with me personally, and if ever there was a time for photography to bring people together and celebrate being different yet living side by side, it was now.

Exhibiting using major advertising space was a brilliant idea – replacing its capitalist function with a humanist cause is genius. It’s a bit like secretly replacing someone’s cigarettes with carrot sticks, or opening up the Daily Mail to find the poetry of Rumi.

Check out other works of Ali Mobasser here

Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries! Looking for inspiration? Read about previous winners here and start thinking about your submission!

Finsbury, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Hyde Park, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

The Underground, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

The Underground, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Caledonian Road, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist
Holloway Road, London England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Holloway Road, London England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Highbury Corner, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artist

Highbury Corner, London, England © Ali Mobasser, courtesy of the artistT