“These images, in all their diversity, reflect something of the richness of this nation and remind us of what there is to be celebrated,” says Martin Usborne, Portrait of Britain judge and Co-Founder of Hoxton Mini Press, the publisher of the first ever Portrait of Britain book. “We hope the book is a powerful snapshot of a moment in our shared history that stands the test of time.”
Over the past three years, British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain award has gone from strength to strength. Originally conceived in 2016 in response to Brexit, the nationwide exhibition has flourished into a celebration of the many faces of modern Britain, reflecting the unique diversity of our country and its contemporary photographic talent.
This year, the Portrait of Britain competition saw a staggering number of entries. The 13,000 submissions were judged by an elite panel of photographic experts, made up of Simon Bainbridge, Editor in Chief of British Journal of Photography; Caroline Hunter, Picture Editor at Guardian Weekend Magazine; Olivia Arthur, Magnum Photographer; and Martin Usborne, Co-Founder of Hoxton Mini Press. Arriving at the 200 strong shortlist was no mean feat, but the outcome reflects the core values of the competition. “Each portrait is a story in itself,” says Bainbridge, “collectively they present an alternative to the current political rhetoric, a human face that gives some nuance to the picture of who we are.”
Among the shortlisted images is Gavin Li’s portrait of Richard, a significant member of London’s vibrant LGBT community, photographed in his British-flag adorned sports gear. “Richard represents one of the many different walks of life you can find in the capital,” Li says of the portrait. “I wanted to celebrate his individuality, so I invited him over to the studio and photographed him in his characterful outfits.”
The book also includes two images by Stephen Iliffe, both depicting Lawand, who is six years old and deaf, and his brother Rawa. The images show the boys, who are asylum seekers from Northern Iraq, in their temporary accommodation last year, at risk of deportation. “In these uncertain times, when vested interests seek to divide the British people, I’m truly delighted to be included in a Portrait of Britain book that radiates a more inclusive vision,” says Iliffe. As a deaf photographer, Iliffe was able to interact with Lawand using sign language, “we played games together and turned it into a fun shoot.”
Throughout the book, there is a theme of inclusiveness, and a focus on celebrating our differences and similarities. For photographer Peter Zelewski, this is literal, and directly relates to his project ‘Alike But Not Alike’, a series dedicated to exploring the similarities, differences and the unique relationships of identical twins. His selected portrait of twins, Joe and Duke, “illustrates the strength and underlying bond of the twin brothers,” Zelewski explains, “and how they support and protect each other regardless of appearance.”
The annual Portrait of Britain exhibition will take place on JCDecaux screens nationwide in September, and will be comprised of 100 images featured in the Portrait of Britain book. The winning images will be announced at the end of August, in time for the launch of the exhibition.
Portrait of Britain 2019 will launch on 12 February 2019. More details to be revealed soon.