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PORTRAIT SALON: Curators of The AOP Awards 2019 Portrait Category

30 October 2018

Portrait Salon 200px copy

James O Jenkins and Carole Evans talk to us about the ethos behind Portrait Salon and offer advice on entering into the Portrait Category of The Awards 2019.

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©Jenny Lewis


Tell us about Portrait Salon and how it came about.

Portrait Salon came about in 2011 after James and Carole tweeted about being rejected from the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. A pint in the pub and a chat about gathering up all the rejected work to see what the judges were turning down saw the start of Portrait Salon. We began by setting up a Tumblr and an email address, and printing out flyers which we handed to photographers in Elephant and Castle when they went to collect their rejected prints from the London College of Communication. We received a great response and held a night at the Roxy where we projected a selection of the rejected work and printed a newspaper catalogue.


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©Tori Ferenc


Why give rejected photographs a second chance?

JJ - Our main reason for giving the rejected photographs a second chance is because the NPG select under 1% of what is submitted. Surely the 99% of rejected work features decent portrait photography that deserves to be shown? Photographers put a lot of work and money into entering competitions and the chance of being selected is slim. The costs are high too - there’s the work in making the photograph, the printing, the acetate sleeves, the delivery and then the collecting of the rejected work. And the competition entrance fee. (However, this year the NPG started accepting digital submissions for the first time for the preliminary round of judging. Photographers through to the second round were asked to supply prints).  CE - We want to show photographers that, just because they didn’t get into the Taylor Wessing prize, it doesn’t mean that their work is no good. We want to show that even the rejected images are great; and are done by some excellent, really established photographers. Submitting work to TW is almost an annual ritual amongst photographers; the prize is held in such high esteem, and Portrait Salon challenges that in a way. How can TW be the benchmark of contemporary photographic portraiture when so many great images are rejected?


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©Sheryl Tait


By opening up your submissions this year to accept rejects from BJP’s Portrait of Britain competition do you have plans to keep expanding? What is the future for Portrait Salon?

JJ - This year we felt that the Portrait of Britain competition was competing with the Taylor Wessing Prize. We know that photographers are entering the same work to both competitions. We wanted to ask what Portrait of Britain is for? And what use does it hold? Are both competitions revenue making exercises for the NPG and BJP respectively? If you do the figures then it is obvious by the amount of entries that the revenue generated is considerable. It’s also worth noting that the Portrait of Britain competition received more entries than the Taylor Wessing Prize thus becoming the UK’s most popular photographic portrait competition.  CE - We don’t have concrete plans to keep expanding per se; the decision to include the PoB competition was again to challenge the role of competitions in the industry. They are clearly beneficial to the organisations running them, but how beneficial are they really to the photographer? And I think a conversation about the role of competitions is really opening up now. Photographers are beginning to question how useful they are to their career.


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©Mark Cocksedge


It could be said that Portrait Salon undermines the opinions given by the high profile judges for the competitions. What is your opinion on this?

JJ - We don’t think we are undermining the judges, we feel we are showing what a tough job they have. The NPG have said that space is a factor in annually selecting around 60 portraits. Faced with thousands of entries the judge’s work is hard. We hope that Portrait Salon shows the next best set or at least an insight into what doesn’t make the cut. Portrait Salon is the home of the rejected work but also a resource for photographers to see what their peers are entering (and having rejected). CE - We’ve always been very transparent with the NPG about what we’re doing. In 2015, Philip Prodger wrote an article for our catalogue. In 2016, Christiane Monarchi (one of the judges that year) gave a talk for us about the judging process. Rather than undermining, we are showing another voice; that ultimately any judging (be it high profile or not) is subjective, and to not let the results effect the confidence or the work of the photographer. We hope that Portrait Salon is an education for photographers; both emerging and established.  


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©Cian ObaSmith


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©Max Miechowski


Have the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and Portrait of Britain been accepting of your venture?

JJ - We have had good contact with staff from the NPG, in particular Philip Prodger (who’s moved on recently) who was encouraging about Portrait Salon and interested to see what we selected. He understood what we were doing and realized there was a place for us. As of yet we’ve had no contact with Portrait of Britain. 


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©Dean Northcott


As judges of our Portrait Category in the Photography Awards what in your opinion makes for an award winning portrait? What would your advice be to our members entering this category.

JJ - Try not to follow trends or a look of what you feel has been selected or won past competitions. Ask others for advice before entering the work, often the editing process is the most tricky and photographers would do well to seek another eye in selecting what to enter. CE - A good portrait is one in which I want to know more about the sitter. This could come in many ways; expression, environment, composition. That’s why portraiture is so difficult I think. It needs to tell a story and inspire curiosity. The advice about editing is so good; it’s important to get another eye on your work before entering competitions.


Portrait Salon 2018 Exhibition Opens on Tuesday 27 November at 7pm. Level 5 at Peckham Levels, London.

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