Strategies in Entering

I have been aiming to compliment my studies by entering a range of competitions and two bursaries during this module. I have aimed to conduct research and really consider my reasons for entering these together with any potential benefit should I be successful. Alys Tomlinson mentions a selective approach when entering awards, and that she actually enters very few of them, noting that many seem to not provide any boost to a photographers’ career even if they win the award (Tomlinson in Smith: 2020). Some of which do feel as though they are designed to collect maximum amout of entry fees for very little in return, however, I have antered a few awards this year to see if my development as a practitioner has made any impact on its resonance for such awards. This is an area that I have always keenly entered but had little in return.


Portrait of Britain
Figure 1: Portrait of Britain & Lewis Kahn (2017) One of the selected entries displayed on a digital display

According to the POB website, this award, which is run by The British Journal of Photography is a look at how diverse and varied Britain is, and in the wake of Brexit it has become a very relevant exhibition that explore these themes (Portrait of Britain 2020). As this award aims to consider the political landscape of the UK, it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the aftermath of Covid-19. I actually entered this award before the start of the pandemic with a range of images taken for my Positions and Practice and Informing Contexts WIPP, so wonder if my entries will actually fall out of relevance when the deadline closes on 16/6, as I would imagine that something that is ingrained onto the public conscious would ultimately be reflected in the judging of this exhibition.

Although POB does seek to aask these questions, it does not necessarilly provide the space to create a truly challenging exhibition. Part of the display of this work is through national digital advertising screens (Fig: 1), which on the plus side means that the featured images have the potential to be seen by a broad range of people outside of the traditional white wall exhibitions of other portrait awards, such as The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. This is a huge positive of this exhibition as it creates an opportunity for those who do not normally engage with photography to see some really great examples of portrait work and may then choose to seek more. Taking photography out of the gallery space to engage with communities is a really good thing and should be done much more. However, the challenge is that anything that gets selected cannot be deemed offensive, so any challenging images, and certain subjects would not even be considered for this award, which feels less representative as a true reflection of what Britain looks like as a nation.

Figure 2: Max Fergusson (2020) Statement of Resignation from Portrait of Britain

There are hints of this exhibition aiming to be a contemporary ‘Family of Man’ exhibition, which sought to show the many facets of humanity but essentially was an idealised view of the world created by Edward Steichan, yet continued to ‘other’ cultures that were not european (Tīfentāle 2018). Though POB, does not explicitly seek to ‘other,’ there have been some challenges that have arisen from this award. For example, since I entered this award there has also been a controversy regarding the judging of this award. Initially, the judging panel was made up of 3 men and one female judge, all three men are also white, which does not reflect the diverse country this award is supposed to represent. This was raised back in March by one of the judges, Max Fergusson who has now stepped down as a result of a lack of diversity on the panel (Fig: 2).

My images are still in contention for the award, and although I am unsure on my chances this year, owing to never placing previously and the shift in public consciousness, the controversy does make me question whether it was a good idea to try and be a part. However, the display and broad sharing of the work in public spaces is ultimately a good thing for the medium and also my work, should it get selected.

Kuala Lumpur Portrait Prize
Figure 3: Kuala Lumpur Photoawards (2020) Open Call Banner

I took the decision to enter this award this year after reading through the Photoshelter guide to competitions, which placed this award as something worthwhile for anyone shooting portraits. As I primarily create work around the portrait, I felt that this would be good place to enter my work. According to the award, it considered itself a ‘significant and vital award’ (Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize 2020). This is an award that I have not considered before but feels prestigious enough that any placement in the exhibition would be valuable to my practice.

Taylor Wessing
Figure 4: National Portrait Gallery (2019) View of the 2019 Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition.

I have actually entered the Taylor Wessing on and off since it was referred to as the Schweppes Portrait prize. I have always felt like this would be a good award to place an entry into, owing to its reputation and prestige. The exhibition at the Portrait gallery has always been something that I have visited yearly and have followed the careers of many of the photographers who have had their work included. As awards go, this one is one of the very top to have work exhibited as part of.

I have found that it is a very expensive process to take part in, even after the switch to digital submission from the print based entry a couple of years ago. The award does draw its fair share of criticism as some cite its homogenisation through the same year-on-year tropes paraded in the exhibition. And the more that this happens, the more photographers will either shoot for this, or submit images that fit an award, which showed similar images the previous year (O’Hagan 2011).

There seems to be a shift from this in the past couple of years, the 2019 edition felt for me to be more thematic and there seemed to be fewer images overall. I have yet to see the entry call for this years award and wonder if this is because of the current pandemic.


Bursaries have been something that I intended to apply for when I outlined my plans for my research project during Positions and Practice. For ongoing funding I identified these as an area that I should be developing. Writing applications and project pitches is something that I will need to improve on if I am to maintain an art practice after the MA.

To start this process, I created and submitted applications for the following:

RPS Postgraduate

I have made an application for the Royal Photographic Societies postgraduate bursary, which seeks to support postgraduate student during their studies. The theme of the application is broad as it is done to the applicant to define the parameters of how the bursary is used. The only real stipulation is that the project must demonstrate specific outcomes. This was useful to consider how to begin creating project proposal’s that developed from my initial one created during the first module.

Eventually, It would make  good basis to start considering applying for funding through organisation’s such as the Arts Council.

Grain Projects – Micro Bursary

Grain Projects created a series of small bursaries with the support of Arts Council England to support photographers to create new work during these unprecedented times. This bursary is much more of a themed approach:

“The commissions and bursaries will support photographers and writers to make new work in isolation (at a social distance), reflecting on these times & contributing to creativity and well being.  Outcomes will be shared with audiences via our digital platforms. (Health & safety is particularly important, all projects must follow the government guidelines for the lock down and social distancing).We are interested in work that responds to the following themes; Social Distancing, Family, Community, Caring, Togetherness, Relationships, Health & Well being, The Economy, Work, Key Workers”

(Grain Projects 2020)

It was clear to me that I should consider my current situation and ability to create work under these circumstances, which is a process that I was initially having to do for my Informing Contexts WIPP submission. This was a good grounding to really consider my application for this bursary.

Grain created three bursaries: commission, Micro, and writing bursary. I have initially applied for the micro bursary as the commission felt like it was designed with a more established photographer in mind. The micro bursary specifically mentions emerging artist, which is where I would position myself at the moment. The writing bursary is also something that I am considering to apply for as I have become quite interested in writing about photography and the theory of it.


Fergusson, Max. 2020. Instagram. June 8. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Grain Projects. 2020. OPEN CALL : 2020 COMMISSIONS & BURSARIES. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards – Portrait Prize. 2020. About. June 13. Accessed June 13, 2020.

O’Hagan, Sean. 2011. Taylor Wessing portrait prize: another animal, another girl with red hair. November 9. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Portrait of Britain. 2020. About Portrait of Britain. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Tīfentāle, Alise. 2018. The Family of Man: The Photography Exhibition that Everybody Loves to Hate. July 2. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Tomlinson, Alys, interview by Ben Smith. 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson (February 5).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.