Have fun, take your time, and play: Laura Pannack on creating a compelling portrait

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Dedicated to developing strong relationships with her subjects, Laura Pannack’s work is always a collaborative endeavour between artist and sitter. Her selected portrait, shot on Nikon, is part of a series she worked on at the very start of her career called The Untitled, which marked the beginning of her interest in youth culture. The project aims to challenge the sweeping generalisations and often negative perceptions of teenagers held by many, by capturing the individuality of each of her subjects.
Pannack has exhibited widely, both in the UK and internationally. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including first prize in the Portrait Singles category of World Press Photo. Educated at the University of Brighton, Central Saint Martins and London College of Communication, Pannack is now based out of London, where she continues to work on research-led personal projects that combine her interest in photography and psychology.
Pannack’s portrait will be on view across the UK as part of the BJP’s Portrait of Britain 2017, in partnership with JCDecaux and Nikon.

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

This portrait was taken many years ago when I was studying at Brighton and is part of a series called The Untitled. The work was made in response to the representation of young people; I wanted to challenge our preconceptions about adolescents and the stereotypes we often apply to teenagers. I created portraits of young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, titling each image solely with the name of the young person pictured. I wanted my viewers to see these people as unique individuals, not just as part of one single group.
Why did you choose to enter this particular portrait?
It is an image that reminds me how much I enjoy photographing teenagers. It is a simple photograph and, because I took it so long ago, one that I rarely revisit. But, I often associate Britain with youth and so when thinking about what to submit, my mind was drawn to this work.
My advice to those thinking of entering in future would be to consider images you feel an emotional connection to, and also to ask for the opinions of others. Reviewing my own work is something I struggle with, so having an outsider offer feedback can be incredibly helpful.

Shay © Laura Pannack
What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?
For me, a compelling portrait is one that provokes emotion and encourages an attachment. I like the idea of a threaded connection from subject, to photographer, to viewer – one that flows effortlessly and connects all three.
© Laura Pannack
© Laura Pannack
When did you fall in love with photography?
The first time I took a picture. My passion for drawing instantly transformed into an obsession with photography. I shot my first roll of black-and-white film on my foundation course at Central Saint Martins. The encouragement from my tutor gave me the confidence I needed to continue working in the medium.
© Laura Pannack
Do you think a powerful portrait can exist in and of itself – purely as a visual document of someone – or does there need to be an engaging narrative behind it?
I definitely think a powerful portrait can exist separately from any underlying narrative. I believe that we all draw our own interpretations from images regardless of the ‘true’ story behind them. For every person who looks at an image, their unique imagination, experiences and emotions work together to decide how they receive it.
Do you have any advice about starting work in this genre?
Have fun, take your time, and play.
© Laura Pannack
What do you think about the Portrait of Britain project?
It’s wonderful. For photographers, the project offers a rare opportunity to reach an audience outside of a gallery context – the showcased work becomes part of the public sphere and changes the ways in which people can experience and discover art. It is accessible, inspiring, and I am honoured to be in such great company. 
© Laura Pannack
© Laura Pannack
Portrait of Britain will be on view around the UK across a network of digital JCDecaux screens this September. Limited-edition prints of the featured portraits are available here and to own a selection in print, purchase the special Portrait of Britain edition of the magazine here.
If you missed the chance to enter this year’s Portrait of Britain, make sure to submit to the International Photography Awards here. 
© Laura Pannack
Portrait of Britain is made possible through partnership with JCDecaux and Nikon. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography. Logo © Nikon