Climate activists, enduring friendships and young love: Portrait of Britain Vol. 5 shortlist announced

Image © Nico Froehlich, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.

From images that shine a light on the political and social pressures of our time to those that illustrate intimate personal stories, we present our full 200 shortlisted portraits

Portrait of Britain returns this year with images that define our contemporary lives. Alongside the many events that have shaped 2022 – the outbreak of war, record-high inflation, soaring temperatures, and the death of the Queen, to name a few – collectively, the 200 portraits that make up the award shortlist recognise the diversity of a changing nation. Against a backdrop of political pandemonium, these images shine a light on significant national moments as well as intimate personal stories.

All 200 winning and shortlisted images are featured in the dedicated Portrait of Britain Vol.5 book published in partnership with Hoxton Mini Press.

© Rory Langdon-Down, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.
© Slater King, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.

Since its first edition in 2016, Portrait of Britain has championed contemporary portrait photography. Open to professional and emerging photographers alike, the prize has previously been judged by industry leaders including Sunil Gupta, Olivia Arthur, Tracy Marshall, and more. Each year, 200 shortlisted images are featured in a hardback book by London-based publisher Hoxton Mini Press. “The images change with the flow of time and are framed by the political and social pressures of the time,” says co-founder Martin Usborne. “Brexit, Covid, Ukraine: these things are backdrops to the everyday issues we all face.” Portrait of Britain Vol 5 will be available online and in stores in early January. Meanwhile, the 100 winning images will be announced on 09 January 2023 and exhibited on JCDecaux screens across the country throughout the month.

This year’s judging panel includes Martin Usborne, photographer Misan Harriman, and curators Sabina Jaskot-Gill, Renée Mussai and Siân Addicott. Many of the submissions were praised for providing a platform to marginalised communities, and for the visible trust conveyed between sitters and photographers. Harriman says that subjects “gave probably more than they should”, and commended the photographers’ “focus on receiving the soul that they’re shooting with absolute honesty”.

© Louis Bever, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.
© Fatbardha Salihu, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.

British photographer Louis Bever is among those shortlisted for the award. His portrait of his friends, Sam and Milly, was made last summer in the couple’s Hackney flat, where Bever found refuge in photography. “I had a stressful time, and I used portraiture to distract myself,” he recalls. “I always enjoy taking pictures of my friends so they have something to look back on.” For the London-based photographer, having his work printed in the book is an important way to keep a visual record of the faces of British history. “In the future, younger people will want to see how Londoners lived in 2022, what we were wearing, and what we looked like,” he says. “Seeing them in physical form is cracking.”

© Sukhy Hullait, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.
© Keir Laird, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.

Bever is joined by portrait and documentary photographer Sukhy Hullait, who was shortlisted for his photograph of Ida, which he hopes captures “that woozy feeling of being young in the summer when we can dream”. The image encapsulates the collective freedom keenly felt across the country following the coronavirus pandemic. “I met Ida and her friend on a patch of green on their own, lying back, chatting in the dappled shade of old trees,” Hullait remembers. “It was one of those glorious, warm days and the world felt expansive and everyone was outside – the parks were full and that pent-up frustration from the pandemic was being released.”

© Raphael Neal, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.
© Zoë Savitz, Portrait of Britain Vol.5 Shortlist.

Other photographs shortlisted for Portrait of Britain reflect on the impact of climate change with several photographers choosing to take pictures of climate activists or those directly affected by it. Raphaël Neal photographed British teenager Lara as part of his series New Waves – a collection of portraits of teenagers, alongside landscape images that allude to environmental degradation. “It felt natural to start the year with a picture evoking a mourning, though I did ask Lara to have a defiant look on her face,” he says, referring to the translucent black veil over her face. “I love how she looks at us: is she judging us? Or inviting us to join her battle? It had to look both engaging and uncomfortable, staged and wild at the same time, like an echo to the confusion one experiences with the dangerously nice and warm weather.” 

Bever, Hullait and Neal’s images are all showcased in our online gallery, where visitors can browse all 200 shortlisted works. The 100 Portrait of Britain winners can be found now on JCDecaux screens up and down the country as part of our month-long exhibition. 

Alice Finney

Alice Finney is the design reporter at Dezeen. A graduate of the Central School of Ballet and Sussex University, she specialises in writing about dance, design and popular culture. She has written for titles including SLEEK Magazine, INDIE Magazine, Mixmag, gal-dem, HuffPost UK, and Dezeen.