The UK's biggest annual photography exhibition, Portrait of Britain, has returned. Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, the shortlisted entries and winners announced today reflect the strange and turbulent times we've all endured, yet also find the beauty within this global struggle.
Hosted by 1854 and British Journal of Photography, Portrait of Britain 2021 looks back at the events of the last two years via a series of 100 striking photographs. As well as representing the struggles of lockdown and homeschooling, these images also provide an insight into a country that was already under immense strain as it entered the new decade.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. As 1854 itself says: "Look closer. Because in the cracks, there is beauty. There is the strength of our communities, the resilience of our health service, and the solidarity of our citizens.
"In its entirety, Portrait of Britain 2021 offers 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."
Chosen by a panel of industry-leading judges - including Tracy Marshall, director of Bristol Photo Festival; Mariama Attah, curator at Open Eye Gallery and Nicola Shipley, director of GRAIN Projects - the 100 winning images capture the changing face of our nation in their own unique way. Parents accessing food banks stand proudly alongside the organiser behind London's Colour Walk, and images of the younger generation explore how our younger generations are kicking back against societal norms.
One of the most appealing aspects of Portrait of Britain is that all styles and approaches appear to be welcome. Sombre, slice of life portraits can co-exist with louder, more humorous photographs because they all represent the different walks of life that make up our country.
"In a world fraught with division, portraiture is, in many ways, the ultimate act of collaboration," adds 1854. "Perhaps portraiture cannot solve Britain's identity crisis, but it can help us rejoice in the diversity of our people — and remind us that, for all our differences, there is sameness amongst us, too."
All of the winning images are available to look at online for free, plus they will appear on special JCDecaux screens throughout airports, high-streets, train stations and bus shelters. What's more, the 100 winning photographs are will also be available in Portrait of Britain Book vol. 4, which is due to be published by Hoxton Mini Press.
And if the stunning winning photographs have inspired you to pick up a camera and start snapping, you can pre-register for Portrait of Britain 2022 here.