Lecturer’s photography celebrated by National Portrait Gallery

Mick and Mavis celebrating VE Day in their garden during lockdown
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Article by: David Millett

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Ravensbourne BA (Hons) Digital Photography lecturer Chris Frazer Smith has been featured by the National Portrait Gallery for his photo encapsulating British spirit during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. The image was selected by the Duchess of Cambridge out of thousands of entries.

The National Portrait Gallery is the world’s first gallery solely dedicated to portraits honouring important British figures. Its iconic location by Trafalgar square in central London has made it a major attraction since 1856. The gallery ran its ‘Hold Still’ competition in the latter half of 2020, which set out to create a ‘collective portrait’ of the country during lockdown.

Mick and Mavis celebrating VE Day in their garden during lockdown

Chris’s shot features his neighbours Mick and Mavis, who sit in front of their house to celebrate a socially-distanced VE Day. Their garden hedge stretches out in the forefront of the photograph, emphasising the distance between them and the camera. It was one of 100 selected out of 31,000 submissions by an expert panel of judges, spearheaded by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, who is a patron of the National Portrait Gallery.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, at the National Portrait Gallery

Eligible pictures had to be taken during a six-week period between May and June 2020, meeting one of three themes: ‘Helpers and Heroes’, ‘Your New Normal’ and ‘Acts of Kindness’. The most impressive were chosen with particular weight given to the emotions and experiences conveyed by the pieces.

The final 100 portraits were displayed on billboards in towns and cities across the UK in October and November 2020. The exhibition was also supported by the Co-op supermarket chain, which featured the portraits in its stores.

Chris said he was ‘thrilled’ that his image was chosen to feature in the project. “I shot this on VE Day when it felt like a release from the Covid-19 lockdown and the atmosphere became more upbeat. Mick and Mavis were born and grew up in our village and they are well known within the community,” he said.

A billboard depicting images from the Hold Still competition

“I often see Mick and Mavis sitting behind their hedge watching the world go by or tending to their garden. The hedge became the perfect metaphor for social distancing and they were very happy to have their portrait shot on a warm English evening celebrating VE Day."

Chris has won a number of awards, including the Portrait Award at the British Photography Awards (BPA), which celebrates the best of UK-based photography talent. He was also awarded the third place prize for the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘#OnlyHumanNPG’ photography competition from over 2,000 entries. His award was presented by esteemed photojournalist Martin Parr. We’re thrilled that our photography students are able to enjoy Chris’ exceptional expertise throughout their studies at Ravensbourne. You can view more of Chris’ work on his website.