My portrait records something more potent than all the selfies that clog up my sister’s iPhone

Josh Adam Jones is a Photography student at UWE in Bristol. Last year, his ongoing series, ‘99 Peace Walls’, was published on BJP. The project was made up of portraits of young people living in Belfast, a city that is still healing its old political and religious wounds.

Josh’s interest in social documentary has developed in his last two years of studying. His People’s Choice portrait of his younger sister was taken as a test for an upcoming trip to Muscat, Oman, where Josh will be shooting expatriate communities. Josh has always considered community and family dynamics when shooting, and the portrait of his sister reflects both his pride in her, and a sibling spat; his sister Leah hates the portrait.

Ollie & Erica, Redcliffe. Bristol © Josh Adam Jones

Can you tell me about the portrait you entered into Portrait of Britain 2018? What is the story behind it?

I entered a number of portraits into Portrait of Britain this year – a selection of stand alone images as well as work from my ongoing series ‘99 Peace Walls’, which was published on BJP in 2017. The portrait that was chosen as an Editor’s Pick is of my younger sister Leah, who actually turned eighteen on the day it was chosen. Leah really dislikes the image so it was quite an amusing addition to her birthday present.

Family dynamics really intrigue me as a photographer. My course leader, Jim Campbell, says photographers can usually be categorised by the direction they point their lens; towards home and their own ‘back yard’, or towards other people and unfamiliar places. I would say that I am usually the latter. I took this image while working on smaller test projects to prepare for my upcoming trip to Muscat, Oman.

Leah has always been fairly studious, and the photograph shows her in the midst of A-Level revision on a bright Sunday morning. I’m incredibly proud of my sister. Photographing her journey through adolescence has been a rewarding experience for both of us, and even though she doesn’t like her portrait, I feel as though it records something a little more potent than all the selfies that clog up her iPhone.

Jamie, Redcliffe. Bristol © Josh Adam Jones

The portrait was taken as a test for your upcoming trip to Oman. What are the aims for that series?

I am going to Oman to document expat communities there. I have been speaking with the people I will be photographing online, and that has been really positive. This final major project will be exhibited in our graduate degree show at UWE Bristol, and also at The Truman Brewery in London.

It has only been in the last couple of years of my degree that I have worked in the realm of social documentary, mainly through environmental portraiture. This probably has a lot to do with my confidence improving, making the social interaction when photographing people easier.

Why did you choose to enter Portrait of Britain?

Portrait of Britain has long been on the radar for me, and I have followed it for the last two years. I particularly like the variety of work that is selected, and also the number of winners who benefit from the competition. Being in partnership with JCDecaux and Hoxton Mini Press is really fantastic and means the final work is displayed to the best of its potential. It would be such an honour to have a photograph in the final judges’ selection, but even being part of People’s Choice has been really rewarding.

I think the main reason for entering this competition is the potentially high number of people who will see the work – who wouldn’t want to have their photograph exhibited on a giant screen?

James, near The Civic Centre. Southampton © Josh Adam Jones

What do you think makes a compelling portrait?

With the amount of imagery that people are subjected to on a daily basis, I think it can be difficult to produce work people will really engage with. Portrait photography must have something that resonates with the viewer. For a portrait to be compelling, the person or people within the photograph should communicate with the viewer on a human level.

What I mean by this is that portrait photography is namely about the human form, and should therefore operate on some level to elicit an emotional response.

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?

This is the second year I have entered this competition, but the only time I have had some success with it. I know that’s because I’ve been making more interesting work and practising photographing people more. To be a portrait photographer, as with any form of photography, takes a great deal of time. To some extent, it also takes failure, and I find myself really learning from my failings. I would tell people not to be afraid of photographing things close to home, but also to look out into the world at the weird and wonderful people who inhabit it.

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!  

Leah & Dan. Cheltenham © Josh Adam Jones