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Editor’s Pick: Photographing London’s Kings of Colour

© Maria Meco Sanchez, Portrait of Britain 2019 Editor’s Picks

Maria Meco Sanchez’s photograph celebrates London’s hidden drag king scene and those working to diversify it

Maria Meco Sanchez originally photographed London’s Kings of Colour drag troupe as part of a commission. The aim of the images was to highlight the role of black drag kings and other performers in the London drag scene, which is a predominantly white space.

“The photograph I entered into Portrait of Britain was of a gender-fluid performer named Coco,” Meco Sanchez explains of her subject. “They were very confident in front of the camera, which made the process easy and fun.”

Meco Sanchez cites her photographic style as intuitive; she works without following specific rules, leaning towards spontaneity, although she admits that this can sometimes feel slightly chaotic.“I’m really bad at directing people,” she says, “so I try not to take too much control – I don’t want to strip away their persona”.

Hailing from Spain, Meco Sanchez is now based in Bristol, where she is studying photography at the University of West England. Her work shifts between documentary, fine art and portrait photography, and her interests lie in people and emotion. “My work has to be emotive,” she explains. “And the work that strikes me the most is always filled with feelings that I can’t quite explain or understand.”

© Maria Meco Sanchez

Meco Sanchez’s work with London’s drag king community was her first foray into this subculture, a scene that didn’t exist, as far as she knew, in Spain. Kings of Colour was set up by drag king Zayn Phallic in order to address the lack of diversity on the UK drag king scene. It’s aim is to celebrate and nourish performers of colour, by not only showcasing their talent, but also by providing mentorship and support to new kings of colour who are keen to take the stage.

The troupe performs across the UK, with shows encompassing renditions from Dreamgirls, alongside performance activism and spoken word. The portrait of Coco, which Meco Sanchez chose to enter into Portrait of Britain 2019, depictsthem in the dimly lit basement that became the backstage area for a London show. Embracing the camera with unabashed confidence, Coco dons nipple tassels and facial hair, which are some of the trademarks they have become known for during their time on the drag king circuit. “The people you are photographing are not just your subjects,” says Meco Sanchez. “Join them and immerse yourself in the experience you are photographing.”

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

© Maria Meco Sanchez
© Maria Meco Sanchez
© Maria Meco Sanchez

Joe Lang on the significance of one chance encounter

© Joe Lang

After winning Portrait of Britain in 2018, Lang got back in contact with Roxy – the subject of his winning portrait – and created a new series

Photographer Joe Lang met Roxy at Margate Pride. The pair discussed the scenes surrounding them and Lang helped Roxy with her dress. Eventually, she agreed to be photographed. “Shooting at Margate Pride was a way to show my appreciation of the bravery of people who attend these events and the history of progress for human rights,” he explains. “I wanted to capture the diversity, beauty and liberalism that, given the chance, can be so rich in our country.”

Lang photographed Roxy against a backdrop of fairground and blue skies. The bright, sunlight leaps off of her, illuminating Roxy’s fiercely, red hair and contoured complexion. She gazes into the camera through her thick lashes, her head slightly cocked to one side. “The idea that people are allowed to present their true selves sounds like a basic right,” continues Lang, “but, this also can be a hurdle due to social pressures. Gay pride protests in Britain have been around for decades but they remain an ongoing revolution.”

© Joe Lang

Much of Lang’s work starts with a chance encounter; “fleeting yet significant moments,” as he puts it. His photography has taken him across America, India and Vietnam during which he has captured an eclectic mix of individuals. “I enjoy documenting such a broad spectrum and discovering people’s similarities and differences,” he explains. “From people distilling alcohol in a remote village near Kon Tum, Vietnam, to couples at sponsored mass Hindu weddings in India”.

Lang’s portrait of Roxy at Margate Pride was only the beginning. In 2018, he submitted the image to Portrait of Britain and it won. “Portrait of Britain was an opportunity to share some of the wonderful characters I have met, through my practice, with the world; it was a chance to get my work seen and judged by a panel of experts.” Being selected for the award inspired Lang to get back in touch with Roxy and to extend the single portrait of her into a series. “This is not something that I often have the opportunity to do,” he explains, “but, given that the portrait had the success that it did with PoB, I thought I should work to evolve it”. Lang has since established a relationship with Roxy that has developed beyond photographer and subject; the pair are now good friends, which “is one rewarding outcome”.

© Joe Lang

Being selected for PoB marked a turning point for Lang. It encouraged the photographer to reflect on his work both aesthetically and conceptually. “I have been considering the way that I approach people and if, and how, this affects the photograph,” he says. He stresses the importance of the award for diversifying our perspectives more broadly too: “Britain is a complex place and we can become sheltered in our own familiarities. Portrait of Britain provides an important, contemporary snapshot of life across the country. It is not only fascinating to witness this now, but it will also exist as a great archive in the future.”

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

© Joe Lang

Max Miechowski on searching for subjects

© Max Miechowski

It was while exploring his new neighbourhood on-foot that Miechowski happened upon Musah – the subject of his winning portrait

In 2017, Max Miechowski moved to London from Lincoln – a small city in the East Midlands. The pace and scale of the capital came as a shock. In an attempt to navigate his new neighborhood, Miechowski explored on foot, photographing individuals that resonated with him. Engaging with his surroundings through photography gave Miechowski an insight into people’s relationships with the city, and, slowly, an understanding of what had drawn him to the capital too.

On one of his walks, Miechowski happened upon Musah – the employee of a fishmonger located just a short distance from the photographer’s former Southeast-London home. “There was an amazing light on him at the time, and after talking for a while about our different experiences of the city, I asked to take his portrait and we made this image,” says Miechowski. The photograph depicts Musah, his gaze fixated on the camera, standing bolt upright surrounded by the paraphernalia of his trade. Despite the dilapidated surroundings, Miechowski bestows his subject with an air of majesty.

© Max Miechowski

Miechowski’s work centres around portraiture; it is through this genre that he explores the themes of community and urban culture across London. The portrait of Musah seemed like an obvious choice to submit to Portrait of Britain 2018 – an award dedicated to celebrating the diversity of the country – and it was selected as a winning image. “It gave me a lot of confidence to push my work further and to continue making portraits of the people around me,” he reflects.

His photograph of Musah is just one portrait from Miechowski’s extensive portfolio of work. “What continues to excite me about portraiture is the collaborative nature of it – two people sharing a moment, recognising and respecting each other, and making an image together,” he explains. For Miechowski, successful collaboration is key to creating a compelling image: both the photographer and subject must reveal enough for the photograph to exude intimacy and honesty, yet hold back sufficient that the viewer is left wanting.

© Max Miechowski
© Max Miechowski

For Miechowski, knowing what makes a strong portrait is instinctual; both the nature of the subject and their surroundings come in to play. “There’s obviously a visual dimension to it, looking for interesting lighting or pleasing colours,” he explains, “but, more importantly, it is about finding the right atmosphere to be able to create something. Often, when it feels comfortable to make an image of someone, something is revealed in the developed photograph that I did not see during the taking of the picture.”

Many of Miechowski’s portraits were taken in Burgess Park, south London. He spent the fiercely hot summer of 2018 photographing the local community amidst swathes of sun-dappled grass and trees. Despite the diverse range of individuals depicted, the work is united by Miechowski’s ability to mould and manipulate light. “Light plays such an important role in the atmosphere and feel of my work,” he says, “it contributes so heavily to the success of my portraits”. The subjects captured in Miechowski’s Burgess Park series are bathed in a golden glow that speaks of long summer evenings. “There is often warmth and optimism to my portraits,” he continues. “This is something I obviously look for and found it just at the right moment for the portrait of Musah.”

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

© Max Miechowski
© Max Miechowski
© Max Miechowski

A Portrait of Britain’s Pakistani community

© Maryam Wahid, Portrait of Britain 2018 winner

Through her photographs, Maryam Wahid addresses the lack of representation for the UK’s South Asian community

Maryam Wahid has been interested in photography since she was a child. The photographer would often spend her weekends perusing galleries with her family, but she was always struck by the lack of diversity on gallery walls. “I saw very little of my community in the art world,” she says. This was a stark contrast to the vibrant multicultural – particularly South Asian – community that surrounded her growing up in Birmingham.

Wahid is profoundly interested in multiculturalism, and uses her work to challenge misconceptions of Islam in the UK. Her photographs focus on the mass integration of migrants in Britain. More specifically, she explores her family’s roots in the Midlands, and their personal, yet arguably universal, experience as immigrants. In her series Archives Locating Home, Wahid positions family photographs from 1950s Pakistan among those taken in Britain decades later.

From the series Archives Locating Home © Maryam Wahid
From the series Archives Locating Home © Maryam Wahid

Using self-portraiture, Wahid draws on her own identity within the UK’s Pakistani diaspora. Her self-portraits pay homage to those taken of her mother at the time she migrated to Britain in the early 1980s. Wahid’s winning Portrait of Britain 2018 photograph employed this same approach. “I was inspired by my family albums,” she explains. “I created this portrait to champion first generation women from my community, and it comes from a wider series that attempts to tell their story in Britain’s history.”

At the time of winning Portrait of Britain, Wahid had just completed a BA in photography. “What appealed to me about Portrait of Britain was the opportunity to be part of a competition celebrating the changing faces of Britain,” she says. Her undergraduate projects, The Niqab and The Hijab, combine aspects of art and fashion photography to celebrate faith, culture and diversity in the UK and beyond. The result is a series of powerful portraits of women, wearing the garments and staring directly into the camera.

From the series Archives Locating Home © Maryam Wahid

In her work, Wahid continues to challenge religious and cultural stereotypes. The photographer is currently working on Transforming Narratives, a project with Arts Council England and the British Council. The project seeks to improve cultural relationships between Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Birmingham, by improving the exchange of contemporary cultural practices between these groups and their home in the UK. The project will take Wahid beyond the South Asian community in the Midlands, to Pakistan for the very first time: “I’m excited to finally visit my motherland,” she says.

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

© Maryam Wahid
© Maryam Wahid
© Maryam Wahid
© Maryam Wahid

Kovi Konowiecki on photographing liminal spaces

© Kovi Konowiecki, Portrait of Britain 2018 winner

“I am interested in communities and individuals that exist in a liminal state of belonging and abandonment; communities that are neither here nor there”

Kovi Konowiecki began his professional life playing football in Europe. He turned to photography to document his surroundings, and shed light on aspects of his identity that he did not quite understand. His focus has shifted from portraits of orthodox Jews – a series partially created in pursuit of learning about his heritage – to individuals living liminally between belonging and isolation. 

Last year, Konowiecki’s portrait of identical twins Dick and Clark won a place in the Portrait of Britain exhibition, and his photograph of Antonia and Franka, also twins, earned a place in the first ever Portrait of Britain book. In 2016, Konowiecki was also part of the inaugural Portrait of Britain, and his winning image was featured among 100 others as part of the award’s first public exhibition. 

Konowiecki has since been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, and has exhibited his work in a group show in California. He is now preparing for a solo exhibition this Spring in Portugal. His first monograph, Borderlandswill be released at the beginning of next year. Below, BJP-onlinespeaks to Konowiecki about Borderlands, his chance meeting with Dick and Clarke, and finding beauty in the mundane.

From the series Borderlands © Kovi Konowiecki

Why did you choose to enter last year’s Portrait of Britain

Portrait of Britain is where everything came together in terms of photography. I first won the award several years ago. It was amazing to see my photograph across numerous screens and tube stations on my daily commute. 

Photography exhibitions are usually pretty intimate, but Portrait of Britain allows viewers to engage with photography in a different way. I loved being part of an exhibition with such a wide-ranging audience. 

Can you tell us about the picture you entered? What did you want to capture about your subject and modern Britain? 

I took the portrait of twins Dick and Clark a few years ago when I was living in London. I met them while walking near my apartment, after seeing them on the opposite side of the road. Their sense of togetherness was fascinating. I asked to take a photograph of them, and Dick was kind enough to let me inside his apartment. 

Dick lives in London and Clark travels from his home in New York to visit his twin brother once a year. I took a photograph of them holding a portrait of their grandmother, and we sat and chatted for a few hours.

From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki

What are your key interests as a photographer? How do you explore your heritage through your work? 

People are the driving force behind my work. I began my practice using portraiture as a way to document the things around me, and to shed light on different aspects of my identity. Typically, I start a project with a group of people or place in mind, and I allow my instinct to take over once I begin taking photographs. 

Portraiture is the most prominent aspect of my work. I am interested in communities and individuals that exist in a liminal state of belonging and abandonment; communities that are neither here nor there.  

Can you tell me about your latest project Borderlands

Some of my projects are intensely thought out and researched, while others come together without any real intention. Borderlands is the latter. 

The project brings together photographs taken in California, Mexico and Israel. I began noticing similarities between many of the photographs I was taking, both visually and thematically. By piecing together these fragments, I found parallels between the people I was photographing, all of whom occupied transitional states between belonging and isolation. 

The project is about physical and internal borders that can be disruptive, seeking to connect these disruptive human emotions with physical borders that exist in our surroundings. Ultimately, it is about figuring out how to cross these boundaries.

What was it like to win Portrait of Britain?

It was very exciting to know that my work was being seen by millions of people across the UK. Many of my friends sent snapshots of my photographs on bus stops and train stations on their way to work, which was really special. Having my photographs published in the first Portrait of Britain photo book was also particularly amazing, as it allowed people to take something physical home, which they can always open and go back to.

How has the award helped boosted your career?

Since my inclusion in last year’s Portrait of Britain, I have been part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London, as well as part of a group show at Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, California. I have also been busy making new work, and editing and sequencing my photographs for two new books.

Portrait of Britain has been a great platform for me. People seeing my work in the exhibition has lead to conversations with other artists and photographers, and has opened doors for me with different curators and publishers. 

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

It is important to remember that often the most beautiful and interesting subjects are those that are closest to you. I would encourage photographers to try to find beautiful and captivating moments in the mundane and everyday. 

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

From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki
From the series Borderlands. © Kovi Konowiecki

A Portrait of the Real Brexit Britain

© Danyelle Rolla

Documentary photographer Danyelle Rolla is proud of her roots. That much is clear from her portfolio, which reads like a guide to working-class Britain. Rolla grew up in Norris Green, one of Liverpool’s poorest towns – the type of town, she says, that the press misrepresents as a hotbed of crime and social decay. Out of frustration at this, Rolla has made it her mission to rewrite the narrative of the people and places that have shaped her, by photographing them in a more flattering light.

The photograph that won Rolla Portrait of Britain 2018 captures Dotty, an older resident of Norris Green, Liverpool, outside the local pub. She is sporting a perm that might be from the Eighties, with shoulder pads to match. In fact, many of the scenes that Rolla photographs could be from other eras: from kitsch village fetes, to groups of skinheads in bomber jackets. In her playful, sometimes garish, images, she captures a Britain that seems to be longing for the past.

This is the same Britain, Rolla’s photographs suggest, that voted for Brexit – a topic that is never far from her work. In her ongoing project Declaration of Independence, she photographs the residents of Boston and Skegness – the constituencies with the highest rates of leave votes in the UK – to better understand what Brexit means to them. We spoke to Rolla about photographing a divided country, and why Portrait of Britain is more relevant now than ever.

© Danyelle Rolla

What did you want to capture about your subject and modern Britain with your Portrait of Britain 2018 winning image?

My image, Dolly, was taken outside a local pub in my hometown of Norris Green, Liverpool. I took pictures because I was disheartened by the press coverage of the area. It started when I was trying to show a friend where I am from; I put Norris Green into a search engine and the images that came up were all mugshots, or pictures of abandoned housing and crime scenes.

This infuriated me, because the area is so much more than that. There are so many glamorous, interesting characters that live there, and I wanted to balance the biased imagery and empower the people in the community.

© Danyelle Rolla

Your series The Declaration of Independence focuses on Britain’s most Eurosceptic constituencies, Boston and Skegness. What made you want to document these places?

I find Brexit fascinating. I have witnessed first-hand the effects that being an EU member state has had on working-class communities, so I understand why people voted to leave. But what I do not like is the bitterness that has remained after the referendum. The escalation in hate crimes, increasing popularity of far-right groups, and the rise of nationalism scare me. I am documenting Boston in the hope that I can present an alternative narrative. I want to give an insight into how and why we find ourselves in this current political landscape.

What I am witnessing from doing this project is that tensions between social classes are becoming more fraught, like they were in 1980s Thatcherite Britain. One middle-class participant I spoke to about the project told me, “I don’t think [working-class voters] should have been allowed to vote in the referendum because they do not have the intelligence level to understand it”.

It is both fascinating and deeply troubling to document. I have never been an objective photographer; I don’t believe such a thing exists. The Declaration of Independence is as much about me trying to understand issues surrounding national identity as it is about documenting Brexit as it continues to unfold.

© Danyelle Rolla

Why do you think Portrait of Britain is important today?

Questions surrounding identity in Britain are incredibly important today. Brexit has demonstrated that the country is split. Tensions surrounding race and class, and the rise of nationalism, need to be showcased to promote discussions about the discord the nation is feeling.

What was it like to win Portrait of Britain?

Hearing the news that I had won was very exciting. Getting my work published and promoted through the British Journal of Photography social media channels was a first for me. I will definitely be entering again this year!

© Danyelle Rolla

What have you been doing since you won? How has the award boosted your career?

Since winning Portrait of Britain, I have been nominated for the Royal Photographic Society’s Hundred Heroines campaign, and I was one of the artists selected to be part of the 209 Women Exhibition, a 2018 initiative, marking the centenary of women gaining the right to sit in Parliament, by inviting female photographers to take portraits of the 209 current female MPs.

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

Do it! You cannot win unless your work is seen, and who knows what that could lead to?

Future generations will look to Portrait of Britain 2019 to see the face of the nation in a historic moment. What will it look like? Enter your work today!

© Danyelle Rolla
© Danyelle Rolla

A Portrait of Queer Britain

© Charley Williams

Britain, for all its charms, can be dominated by grey skies and gloomy headlines. So it’s uplifting to come across the work of Charley Williams, whose portraits of drag queens and LGBTQ party-goers show Britain as the joyful and free place it can be. Her work is rooted in Bristol, where she lives. This small city, in England’s West Country, is famous for being progressive, and it has a vibrant and liberating spirit that abounds in Williams’ work.

Dominique Fleek, the image that made the Portrait of Britain 2018 shortlist, captures a drag artist transforming into character. Williams tends to find her subjects in nightclubs and at festivals, and as such, her portraits explore a queer and carnivalesque world. Ahead of Portrait of Britain 2019, we spoke to Williams about how photography can tackle intolerance and can move us towards becoming a more open and accepting society.

© Charley Williams

What did you want to capture about your subject, and about modern Britain, with the portrait that you entered into Portrait of Britain 2018?

The subject of my photograph is Montell Cunningham, mid-transformation into his drag alter-ego, Dominique Fleek. One of the reasons I wanted to photograph him during the transitional phase was to capture both the masculine and feminine aspects of his personality. To me, he represents the ongoing cultural shift towards gender and sexual fluidity.

As an LGBTQ person of colour, Montell is a minority in this country and is at a much higher risk of attack because of his orientation and race. I only see a beautiful, confident individual who has as much right to be here as anyone else. Creating this work is my way of pushing back against hatred and homophobia.

I live in Bristol, one of the most progressive and peaceful cities in the world. It’s important to me that my work is seen by people outside of the city, to further push the boundaries of society.

© Charley Williams

Why do you think Portrait of Britain is important today? What do you think we’ll see in Portrait of Britain 2019?

Politics is dividing us more and more in this country; Brexit has us foaming at the mouths. Portrait of Britain is hugely important in demonstrating the diversity of our great country, and in bringing us all together despite our differences.

Hanging out with drag queens and drag kings is totally normal to me, but it may not be for everyone. When flipping through the Portrait of Britain book, I saw a lot of people that I would never encounter in my daily life. Photographs give us insights into the lives of people we wouldn’t otherwise meet. It makes me proud to be British. It’s a reminder that even if we have different beliefs, we are all British and, ultimately, we are all one.

© Charley Williams

What was it like to be shortlisted?

It still feels surreal! I am so humbled every time I see my copy of the Portrait of Britain book at my bedside. Having my work recognised by such a well-known organisation has really validated my work and given me confidence that I didn’t have before.

How has the award boosted your career?

I think the main change is how I perceive myself and my own work. I’ve really started to take my photography seriously and I spend a lot more time thinking about the reasons why I am producing the work that I do.

I still shoot a lot of drag events and have made a name for myself with my drag portraits. I am currently in talks with another Bristol photographer, Shelby Alexander, and we are planning to exhibit our work on drag queens together this year.

© Charley Williams

What themes do you like to explore in your work?

I have always been very interested in how we present ourselves to the world. I find it fascinating that we often try to reject labels, yet we also hold onto them when we want to define who we are.

My main focus is definitely drag. I will continue shootings portraits and drag events throughout the year, including Drag World, which is a huge drag convention in London in the summer. I’ve also got plans to shoot at some festivals this year – I want to explore the subcultures that only emerge at festival time.

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

If you’ve produced something that you are really proud of, just go for it. I thought that because I was using flash and shooting on digital my work wouldn’t be considered. It just goes to show, if you don’t put yourself out there you’ll never know!

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

© Charley Williams
© Charley Williams
© Charley Williams

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