Book review — British Life Photography Awards

The British Life Photography Awards: Portfolio 1 is a catalogue book of the winners and finalists of an inaugural event “to capture and share” the perspectives of photographers from all walks of life.

The inspiration for the contest comes from the “amazing democratisation” of photography in the 21st century.

Homer Sykes, a self-described documentary photographer of half a century, provides a foreword, in which he describes the journey of discovery, “getting up before dawn, going to bed too late, being out there, experiencing, learning, thinking on your feet and trying to understand how we live, work and play.”

This is complemented by a brief introduction by Caroline Metcalfe, who calls upon photographers in Britain, “Rather than look overseas for potential material, … stay at home and shoot stories that we know are just waiting to be made.”

The judging panel reveals an impressive collection of accomplished photographers, many with work for various travel and lifestyle magazines and newspaper supplements.

And this is the shortcoming of this presented portfolio of work.

The images are all good, but like much of British life itself, it’s an eclectic mix of the editorial and the artistic. Many images would easily grace a Condé Nast publication or a Sunday magazine; I don’t need to buy a book to discover this talent.

What interested me more were the fewer images that demonstrated some individuality of the photographer, one’s own perspective on life in Britain.

Yellow Rain (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_
Yellow Rain; used with permission (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_

Images such as Heather Buckley’s “Tea at Birling Gap”, with a hatted women’s head emerging from a teapot; Linda Wisdom’s “Yellow Rain” (one of the best in the volume, in my opinion); Gerard Collett’s “Orange, White and Blue”, of two identical older women, sitting across from each other, putting on makeup at the same time; and Zoe Barker’s “Lazy Days”, not an Instagram tilt-shift filter, but authentic 120-format film print.

So while I don’t regret acquiring this first edition — I’d like to learn more about the next contest — I can’t recommend it. The pictures may be pleasing, but the selection incoherent (why so many from a single naked bike ride event?). A more critical slimmer volume of images and/or photographers may have brought more inspiration for the rest of us about to go out to shoot more stories of British life.

One thought on “Book review — British Life Photography Awards

  1. This book tries hard to please everyone and ends up a little confused. I agree with much that has been said by Allan, the most disappointing part for me was the layout, the square shaped book spreads many of the pictures over 2 pages and kills much of the work stone dead. The Fashion section surprised me as I expected this to be more street based, most of the work is retro in style and not very 2014.
    Highlights for me are the series by Zoe Barker and the pictures of the North East by John Sturrock.
    This book has something for everyone and that might be its weakness !

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