All posts tagged: Success story

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

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