As Portrait of Britain returns for a second year, in partnership with JCDecaux and Nikon, the October issue focuses on the alluring power of portraiture to capture raw and honest moments that defy expectations
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more responsibility to show the strength of a person and to create an appropriate image to reflect their story,” says Jenny Lewis, a London-based photographer whose work features in this year’s Portrait of Britain exhibition. Her portrait of Corrine Jones, a survivor of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, depicts a strong, resilient woman in the face of unexpected adversity. The image stands as a testament to portraits’ ability to capture our imagination: who is this person, what are they doing, why are they doing it?
In Portrait of Britain – the public exhibition by the people, of the people, for the people – the answer is that these are simply everyday citizens across the country. Captured at home, at work, or in the streets, each image featured in the 100 strong winning entries demonstrates a side of British culture, values and tradition, away from divisive political discourse.
A selection of these images feature in The Portrait Issue, showcasing life the length of the country, from the Isle of Arran to the south coast, as well as the range of photographic talent from both new and established names. These portraits provide an overview of the whole exhibition, which can be viewed on digital JCDecaux screens across the country throughout September.
One of the most endearing elements of portraiture is this confessional approach, and other portraiture projects featured in this issue pick up on this theme. Mathieu Pernot has photographed a Roma family living in the South of France for over twenty years, for example, as they struggle to overcome a range of political and social barriers, misconceptions and cultural divides. The resulting series of images, Les Gorgan, presents an intimate view on a culture that is so often derided.
“What is very important in this context is the meaning of family, something which is quickly disappearing in our society. They uphold an alternative lifestyle that allows them to stick together as a group to defend themselves when in danger and to support one another in times of grief. That is how I understood the strength of the community,” explains Pernot.
Community is a central element in a number of portraiture projects in this edition, and that holds true for Rob Hornstra’s new book and exhibition, Man Next Door, which documents the struggles of working-class districts in Utrecht, The Netherlands. His exhibition combines both personal portraiture with a meandering aesthetic backdrop around this convivial neighbourhood as a way of reclaiming identity and space, and to make these communities visible again.
“The ultimate goal I always had in mind for this project was to apply photography in order to create a real encounter with those who exist among us but too often remain invisible in our society. Most people seem to be a bit scared and would rather look the other way, instead of actually encountering strangers who are not part of their immediate social environment,” says Hornstra of his ten-year project.
Part of this process of reclaiming identities and reshaping narratives ensures that portraits are able to reveal overlooked or misunderstood communities and change the dominant discourse. Birmingham provides the backdrop for two series which feature this issue, Portable Studio by Trevor Appleson and You Get Me? By Mahtab Hussain. Both series explore youth culture throughout the city: the first focussing on constructing youth identities and the paraphernalia of life in Birmingham, the latter on demystifying preconceptions about Muslim youth in the city, playing on the boundaries between nationality, culture and class. Both provide insights into marginalised groups.
Elsewhere, we feature the work of Brian Griffin, known for his distinctive images of the 1980s music scene, then for his off-beat portraits of business leaders. We examine the relationship between father and daughter in Colin Pantall’s personal series All Quiet on the Home Front, and hear from the MoMA chief curator of photography, Quentin Bajac on the importance of luck. Plus we review of Sony’s long-awaited A99 II.
Our portraits go beyond the paper issue this month and can be seen on digital JCDecaux screens in commuter hubs and shopping centres across the country, or the whole selection can be viewed online at portraitofbritain.uk