What is it like to be part of the UK’s biggest photography exhibition? We spoke to past winners and shortlisted Portrait of Britain photographers
Portrait of Britain 2019 is open for entries. Now in its fourth year, the groundbreaking award has grown an enormous following both at home and abroad; last year, it was featured across international media outlets, from The Guardian to Sky News. Portrait of Britain is now the largest exhibition of its kind in the UK, and each year 100 winning images are displayed on outdoor screens right across the country, with 200 shortlisted images collated into a Portrait of Britain book. Calling for portraits that capture the face of a nation in a historic moment, the award is set apart by both its unique scale and its timely subject matter.
The kind of exposure that Portrait of Britain brings is invaluable for photographers. But how does it actually feel to be included in the biggest exhibition of contemporary portrait photography the UK has ever seen? To have your work celebrated in the press and on TV? And to be featured in a hardback book that people across the globe will cherish for years?
We spoke to some of our previous Portrait of Britain winners and shortlisted photographers, to find out how being part of the award has boosted their confidence and catapulted their careers.
Arabelle Zhuang, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist
“It was an honour to be part of Portrait of Britain 2018. To be able to be among such amazing photographers, some that I’ve looked up to for a while, has been incredible and inspiring. It has really encouraged me to continue making work I’m passionate about and to create imagery that shows diversity and emotion.”
William Marsden, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist
“Since Portrait of Britain, I’ve done work for Wonderland Magazine, Audi Magazine, Rake’s Progress and The Jackal Magazine. I’ve also been commissioned to do a shoot for Google, and I recently signed to the new photography department at Academy Films. As my commercial career has started to take off, being able to say I was part of Portrait of Britain 2018 has helped me to stand out.”
Andrea Zvadova, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner
“Being part of Portrait of Britain was obviously an amazing feeling. I am very glad that my image had a chance to be shown all around the UK alongside so many other excellent photographs – each telling their own stories.”
Kovi Konowiecki, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner
“Being part of such a widespread exhibition was very exciting, especially knowing that my work was being seen by millions of people across the UK. Photography exhibitions are usually pretty intimate, but Portrait of Britain allows viewers to engage with photography in a different way. The exhibition really brings the diversity of Britain to the fore.
Many of my friends sent me photos of my image in bus stops and train stations on their way to work, which was pretty special. Having my work published in the first Portrait of Britain photo book was also special, as it allowed people to take something physical home with them that they can always go back to.
I have a solo exhibition coming up and several books on the way. Portrait of Britain has been a great platform for people to see my work, and it has opened doors for me with curators and publishers.”
Hasan Murat Ozkasim, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist
“Being published in the Portrait of Britain book gives a certain authority to my work when I present it to galleries, which has led to all kinds of opportunities. At the moment I’m involved in two projects, Submissive State or Submissiveness and Sensual Desires of Disabled People (in collaboration with Zebedee Models) which is already gaining global exposure, including a feature on the Italian Vanity Fair website!”
Piotr Karpinski, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner
“It was a great experience to be a part of such a cool project. It boosted my productivity, and gave me extra drive to work on other projects, which is vital for a freelancer.
I was working on my project Immortals at the time, which is now finished. The last picture of the series is currently hanging in the Saatchi Gallery as part of Saatchi Screen Project.”
Amara Eno, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner
“It was really exciting to have my work exhibited in so many places at once. The biggest highlight for me was having people send over sightings of my portrait all over the UK – the furthest documented point was up in Scotland!
Portrait of Britain also had such a positive effect on my subjects, and the project the portrait belongs to, The 25 Percent, which explores the landscape of single parenthood in the UK today. It’s really encouraged me to keep making work that empowers communities and elevates the voices of those who feel underrepresented in society. I’m now in the early stages of some new projects that have stemmed from The 25 Percent!”
Iringo Demeter, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist
“The competition has such a varied audience. It was a great opportunity to reflect on what I value most in my work and what is relevant to the public.
With the images I submitted, both of mothers breastfeeding their children, my aim was to share very intimate moments of being human. Breastfeeding has become a widely and more openly debated subject recently, and I hope my image added something valuable to that conversation.”
Eliska Kyselkova, Portrait of Britain 2018 Winner
“Portrait of Britain is an amazing competition, mapping the diverse cultures and people of Britain through photography, which feels even more relevant in difficult times of Brexit negotiations. It was very exciting to be part of it.
My portrait got amazing press coverage. It was featured by The BBC, The Guardian and Lense.fr, and was published in British Journal of Photography, in the Portrait of Britain book and on JCDecaux screens around UK. This helped me to meet people across the photography community and to reach out to new clients. Most of all, it gave me the confidence to continue with my work.”
Jay Bing, Portrait of Britain 2018 Shortlist
“It was an honour to be a part of something that brought together so many creative, talented individuals. Gaining exposure through Portrait of Britain provided me with both networking connections and motivation to continue my project. I am working on a body of work that explores the vernacular of rural skateparks in Great Britain. I started the project 2 years ago and hope to mark its completion at the end of 2019 with the release of my first self-published book.”