I get asked quite often why I don’t enter competitions, the British Journal of Photography ‘Portrait of Britain’ competition being one of them.
Part of the problem is that you have to pay to entry. This is not necessarily a financial thing (it’s a tenner for one submission) it’s more the fact that the more money you’re prepared to throw at things like this the greater your chances of winning. Makes it a bit elitist in some ways – if you afford it you can boost your chances.
More importantly however there is something I noted in their FAQ section. Apparently you need a written model relese to be considered one of the wininers (or verbal permission to be featured in the book – not sure how you prove verbal permission though). To get a true ‘portrait of Britain’ it’s impossible to work this way. If I were to photograph someone on the street and then ask them to sign a model release chances are the answer would be no. If they were to agree then naturally they would want to see the photo first – I’ve no idea which photo I’ll use until much later. If you’re shooting film then even worse.
The subject in the photo will probably either want paying or to choose the photo they think they look best in. This isn’t really a true reflection of Britain.
The photos must have been taken since January 2012 – so good luck with finding the stranger you photographed on the streets 7 years ago to get them to sign a model release!
So no doubt the ‘winner’ will be once again some arty-farty image with muted colours of some skinny kid with freckles staring dead-eyed into the camera.
A ‘Portrait of Britain’ can be found out on the streets not in this sort of competition.