“Your take on British identity deserves to be shared”: The Portrait of Britain jury on this year’s award

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Image © Byron Hamzah.

With Portrait of Britain 2021 open for entries, a selection of this year’s judging panel consider why Portrait of Britain is important today — and crucially, how artists can stand out from the crowd

Portrait of Britain is an award capturing the many faces of modern Britain, culminating in the nation’s biggest annual photography exhibition. Enter now.

In the wake of Brexit and the events of 2020, it’s easy to see nothing but struggle in Britain’s recent history. But look closer. Because in the cracks, there is beauty: there is the strength of our communities. The resilience of our health service. The solidarity of our citizens.

Against the backdrop of a nation still picking up the pieces, Portrait of Britain is back to muse on the many faces of Britishness today. We’re on the hunt for a rich and complex variety of work that holds a mirror up to modern society: from quiet, everyday moments to landmark events; dynamic urban faces to eccentric countryside characters, and traditional portraiture to more innovative techniques. 

Culminating in the nation’s biggest annual photography exhibition in collaboration with JCDecaux, Portrait of Britain offers the chance to be exhibited to millions across the UK. 200 shortlisted photographers will also be featured in the prestigious Portrait of Britain book, published by Hoxton Mini Press and distributed worldwide.

Below, we meet a selection of this year’s judging panel, who consider why Portrait of Britain is important today, and what they’re looking for in entries.

David Drake

Director, Ffotogallery

“With Brexit and a hardline government that favours jingoistic flag-waving over celebrating local and regional diversity, our sense of nationhood is being challenged. The United Kingdom is looking very disunited at the moment. It is therefore a good time to present a kaleidoscopic view of British identity which looks south and north, east and west, and reflects our diverse heritages and backgrounds.

Your particular take on British identity deserves to be shared with a wider audience. My advice is to avoid nostalgia and whimsy, build a meaningful relationship with your subjects, and represent them faithfully and respectfully.”

Tracy Marshall

Director, Bristol Photo Festival and of Northern Narratives

“British identity is a complex, varied and multifaceted concept. Now, perhaps more than ever, opening up a means to capture that in a diverse, embracing and inclusive way is important. 

Unlike some competitions, it’s not restricted by age, nor only to recent graduates. Portrait of Britain aims to be reflective of society and, as a result, is open for entrants who aren’t always full-time professional photographers; haven’t studied photography; are of all ages, and are from all walks of life. It allows entrants to be as diverse as the subjects.

My advice is this: as with all competitions and all means of putting work into the public domain, be authentic. If you get that right – no matter what else you do – you’ve got the main core element of success in place.”

Nicola Shipley

Co-Founder and Director, GRAIN Projects

“Portrait of Britain is a fantastic opportunity for photographers. It provides a significant and high-profile platform for their work; engages new audiences of people across the nation (both via exhibitions and BJP); secures international press coverage and enables photographers to have their work seen by a panel of industry leaders. 

My advice to photographers thinking of entering would be this: taking part makes a difference. If successful, you will be part of the UK’s largest photography exhibition, which will contribute to the development of your photography practice and career. But more importantly, you will have the chance to platform a portrait of your choosing: a face that, for you, symbolises contemporary Britain today and contributes to and champions change.”