Every September for the past three years, Portrait of Britain has taken over high streets, rail stations, shopping malls and airports across the United Kingdom, transforming JCDecaux screens into celebrations of the many faces of modern Britain, and its contemporary photographic talent. This year is no different. As much a celebration of photography as a celebration of our country’s people, Portrait of Britain has become the largest contemporary portrait exhibition ever held.
Last year, British Journal of Photography also produced the first Portrait of Britain book — a physical embodiment of the work of the shortlisted and winning photographers. Published by Hoxton Mini Press, and distributed worldwide, the book was met with great acclaim and will be returning this year with 200 new images, each chosen for their nuanced reflections of the British people.
Among those shortlisted is James Tye for his photograph of Franko-B, a visual artist, professor and DJ. “I met him by chance at a zebra crossing in Whitechapel, over a decade ago,” says Tye, who shot the portrait specifically to enter it into the competition. “We’ve stayed in touch and when I heard about Portrait of Britain I asked if he’d pose for some new shots at my studio.” The image is colourful and striking; Franko-B’s tattoos are set off against a bold yellow background. “Franko-B uses his body to unsettle audiences onstage, frequently cutting himself during performances,” adds Tye.
Chris Frazer Smith’s image, ‘Like Father Like Son’, will also be appearing in the book. The photograph is part of Frazer-Smith’s project documenting a group of men who shoot on farms just outside of Cambridge. The chosen image depicts a son on his first day out shooting with his father, both of them dressed in camouflage. “It’s a little unusual to be dressed in camouflage when shooting in the UK,” explains Frazer Smith. “They both spoke in-depth about the responsibility of farmers to maintain the rural community and the importance of rural crafts.”
This year welcomed a staggering number of entries, whittled down by a judging panel comprised of: Simon Bainbridge, Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography; Shannon Ghannam, Global Education Director at Magnum Photos; Shoair Mavlian, Director of Photoworks; photographer Sunil Gupta; and Martin Usborne, the Co-founder of Hoxton Mini Press.
“With the return of Portrait of Britain, the question of national identity has never seemed so loaded,” says Bainbridge. “Facing a divided nation, Portrait of Britain aims to frame these questions of identity differently, looking at who we are as a nation of individuals, apart from the politics of division.” Among the winning images are portraits of a market seller, rappers Professor Green and Loyle Carner, and a photograph of Ruth Rose, who at 81, became the UK’s oldest person to have gender reassignment surgery.
All of these images and more will appear nationwide on JCDecaux screens throughout September, spanning the length and breadth of the country for one month. Let us know which is your favourite portrait by posting on social media and hashtagging #portraitofbritain.
Portrait of Britain is one of five awards in our growing awards programme. Last year, we launched Portrait of Humanity, a global extension of Portrait of Britain, aiming to prove that there is more that unites us than sets us apart. This year, we introduced our 1854 Access Membership, which allows members to enter all of our awards for free.
Head to our awards page to find out more.