What is the face of modern Britain? At a time of global uncertainty and political wrangling for our country’s future it is a question that is both pertinent and difficult to answer. However, the launch of the British Journal of Photography’s second annual Portrait of Britain will showcase 100 portraits that celebrate our diversity, cultures and shared national identity away from any political or divisive rhetoric.
Launched as an exhibition by the people, of the people and for the people, this year’s Portrait of Britain received nearly 8,000 entries from which the final selection of 100 images have been chosen. They will now be displayed in busy commuter hubs and shopping centres from 1-30 September, in partnership with JCDecaux, the advertising firm, and Nikon, the photography giant.
The winning entries this year capture what it means to be British today, from life on the islands of the Inner Hebrides to the beaches of Cornwall, but also highlight the photographic talent and range of portraiture styles from professional and amateur photographers alike.
Certain portraits are traditional and formal in their execution, such as Rory Lewis’ image of Captain Anani-Isaac, serving in The Royal Lancers regiment of the British Army, or Charlie Edwards’ photograph of Karl Rawlings from Birmingham, which features on our cover this year.
Others reveal more intimate or casual moments of people going about their everyday lives such as Harry Borden’s image of a family holiday at Washfield Weir in Devon, or Frederic Aranda’s portrait of a young family surrounded by the chaos of their daily lives inside their London home.
British culture is an undertone of all the photographs, whether demonstrated by the Working Men’s Clubs of former coal and mining regions as shown by David Severn, or captured in Adrian Lambert’s shot of Stephanie Leake at work at Jack Badger Ltd, a traditional heritage joinery company in Derbyshire.
Sometimes, this Britishness is shown through people that recall a different era, with Rita Platts’ image of photographer Ali Salih Adalier at his studio in Stoke Newington, where faded photographs adorn the windows, or Brian Galloway’s portrait of Jack, an 87-year-old whose property in Wandsworth Town has remained unaltered in decades.
Regardless of profession or place, the most endearing element of all the images is the fact that these are ordinary people going about their lives across the UK. Of course, some of the people featured are personalities; among them celebrated playwright, Tom Stoppard, the artists Anthony Gormley and Tracey Emin, and from the music world, Skepta.
Amongst the portraits are unsung heroes and inspirational members of our societies and communities, such as Rebecca Bunce, co-founder of a domestic violence charity, Dr. Henry Marsh, the pioneering neurosurgeon, and Andy Woodward, who is working with the Football Association to make football a safer sport following recent sex abuse scandals.
Although this is a selection of individual images, some come from wider works, series, or in relation to news stories. The portrait of Corrine Jones, taken by Jenny Lewis, for example, came in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, as the photographer elaborates.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more responsibility to show the strength of a person and to create an appropriate image to reflect their story,” says Lewis. “You can’t imagine life being more chaotic and out of control with no idea of what the future was going to hold. Amongst this was Corrine a calm, polite, pillar of strength, holding it all together for her family.”
Corrine Jones is a testament to the spirit of British society, which is something this exhibition wants to celebrate and promote, as Simon Bainbridge, the Editorial Director at the British Journal of Photography, explains: “Collectively, the portraits celebrate the unique heritage and diversity of modern Britain, as much as its thriving photography culture and the myriad styles and approaches they employ in their work. Yet, as much as our tribal allegiances are on show in many of the photographs, each image reminds us that above all, we are a nation of individuals.”
In the same manner as last year, the images will be on display as public art in public spaces across the country, putting the people and their stories centre stage. The digital gallery will be featured across JCDecaux’s digital network of screens for the month of September in iconic locations such as Birmingham’s Bullring and Liverpool One and major commuter hubs, such as King’s Cross, St Pancras, Manchester Piccadilly and Edinburgh Waverley to name a few.
Ben Maher, Sales and Partnership Director at JCDecaux, was excited about the launch of the latest edition, saying, “This is the second year of Portrait of Britain, a unique exhibition that turns our national channel of portrait screens into a national gallery of portraits. These powerful photographs show a wonderfully diverse view of Britain, capturing people at work, at rest, in family groups and alone, in times of happiness and introspection.”
Support this year comes from Nikon, the photography brand, who have partnered with Portrait of Britain to mark their 100th anniversary. “It’s an honour for us, a leading imaging brand, to support such a pivotal celebration of photography to help mark the occasion. The selection of winning images are testament to the uniqueness of our country,” says Jeremy Gilbert, Marketing Manager for Nikon UK.
The winning images from the exhibition can be seen at portraitofbritain.uk and many of them will be available to buy as art prints from gallery.portraitofbritain.uk. A selection of the images will also be included in the October print issue of the British Journal of Photography.