Rosie Matheson on being selected for a BJP award

Rosie Matheson’s selected work for Portrait of Britain 2016 captures Elliott Jay Brown at his favourite skatepark in Camden, London.

Prior to being selected for Portrait of Britain, London-based photographer Rosie Matheson had worked on a number of editorial projects for clients such as Nike, Adidas and The Financial Times, whilst also evolving her own self-initiated projects. Her most recognisable series, Boys, celebrates the diverse and vulnerable beauty of young men. In 2016, she entered one of the photographs from the series, Elliott, into Portrait of Britain, and the image instantly became an iconic marker of British inner-city youth.

Since being selected for a BJP award, Rosie’s work has gone from strength to strength. She has begun a new project in LA, whilst also working towards releasing Boys as a book. Rosie’s personal work has now been featured in several high-profile publications, including Dazed, i-D and The Culture Trip, and she has garnered national attention with her intimate, documentary-style portraits of young men and women across the world. We spoke to Rosie about her growing success, and how being selected for an award has helped further her career.

Dennis photographed in London © Rosie Matheson

Can you tell me about the photograph you entered into Portrait of Britain in 2016?

I was first made aware of the subject of the photograph, Elliott, through a mutual friend. At this time, around December 2015, Elliott was spending most of his days skateboarding, so it made sense to photograph him at his favourite skatepark. When I arrived, I watched him skate around the bowl a little before we took some photos. I shot two rolls of film with him, in quite a short but meaningful time frame. In the final three frames, I just felt it was right for him to close his eyes. The second to last photo I took was the one I chose to enter into Portrait of Britain.

The portrait was part of your ongoing series, Boys. How has that project developed since your photograph was selected for Portrait of Britain?

My confidence in my personal work has really improved since being selected for Portrait of Britain, and I have been spurred on to truly believe in and get into this project. When the images of Elliott circulated the internet and gained some recognition, it made it easier for me to cast and shoot other young males. People really trusted my skills and work.

Seb photographed in Brighton © Rosie Matheson

How do you think you have benefited from being selected for Portrait of Britain?

The exposure from Portrait of Britain was priceless. My picture has become widely known, which has opened up a lot of doors. I have benefited not only from the close industry following of British Journal of Photography, but also from random people who have come across the image while waiting at a bus stop and have decided to share it online. This has resulted in the wide growth of my audience, and a huge range of new work opportunities.

How do you choose and work with subjects to achieve your final image?

My casting process is hard to define, but I know if I want to shoot someone instantly. I’m drawn to people who strongly show what they’re interested in – I like it when people have a hobby they love to indulge in. I also like to shoot people in their natural environment, as they really own the space.

During shoots, I just chat to my subjects about their week, their hobby, what they had for lunch. I like to engage with people and find out about them. If they move about in a way that shows something special or captures my attention, I’ll make them freeze in that position and take some photographs. I like to either shoot relatively quickly in the first few moments of our meeting, or spend a whole day with them.

Sofiane photographed in Paris © Rosie Matheson

Do you have any advice for future entrants about selecting a portrait to submit into competitions and, more generally, about getting into photography to begin with?

The best advice I can give is to take pictures as often as you can. Learn from your photos and try to improve on every shoot. I started in portraiture by photographing family and friends, before turning to a wider variety of subjects like models and musicians. Try to photograph as many people as possible – you’ll learn how to interact with strangers and improve your photography skills by approaching them and taking photos. It can seem scary and daunting at first, but you’ll be surprised by how willing and intrigued people are to have their picture taken.  

Tyron photographed in London © Rosie Matheson