Shoot only to satisfy yourself: Sophie Green on the art of good portraiture

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Sophie Green is a social documentarian and portrait photographer based in London. After studying Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion, she began documenting marginalised communities. Exploring the realms of afro hair salons, banger & stock car racing, street car culture, horse racing and Travellers, Green’s work offers a platform for these groups to tell their stories, challenging the stereotypes and prejudices often attributed to them.
Her selected image for Portrait of Britain 2017 is part of a series she is currently working on exploring African initiated Christianity and culture. Depicting a young girl as she stands outside her church after a Sunday morning service in Peckham, the portrait epitomises the rawness and honesty that characterises Green’s work.
This portrait is currently 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?

I photographed Hannah outside her church after a Sunday morning service in Peckham, South London. This image is part of a work-in-progress project that celebrates African initiated Christianity and culture. I don’t want to give away too much before completing the series, but I’m very excited about the work!

© Sophie Green
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 all the time. Just step outside your front door and keep taking portraits. Don’t make work that’s dictated by what you think other people want to see. Shoot only to satisfy yourself, stay close to your vision and trust your instincts.
Don’t be scared about engaging with strangers. I am continually amazed by how willing individuals are to connect and I am always surprised by how much people are willing to share if you ask. You can learn something from everyone.
What do you think makes for a compelling portrait?
The portraits that people remember are those that resonate with them on an emotional level. Memorable portraits make you pause and think; as a viewer you feel intrigued by the person in the frame. For me, a portrait is powerful when it is emotive and captures something real and raw.
© Sophie Green
Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences you’ve had whilst shooting portraits?
My most recent project – collaborating with the church congregation for the last year and a half – has been particularly special. Alongside the shoots, I have been doing some photography workshops, which generally culminate in a variety of unrelated activities including dance offs, climbing tractors or doing gymnastics on the street, which is always fun! Following each shoot, I also do a print delivery for all of the congregation which they can keep for themselves. It’s always so lovely to see people’s reactions when they look at their own portrait.
What do you think about the Portrait of Britain project?
It’s such a wonderful platform, which celebrates the many ways in which photographers are exploring how to represent the unique characters of people through the medium of photography.
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 2018 here.
© Sophie Green
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