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Roxy Lee
Photography Roxy Lee

10 photographers share their portraits of Britishness

Absurdity, conformity, rebellion and tits-out hedonism: we invited ten image-makers to select a photograph from their archive that resonated for them with the theme of British culture and share the stories behind their chosen image

Introducing Horror Nation?, a new season from Dazed about the current state of the UK from the perspective of the young people who live here.

The construct of “Britishness” is fraught, fluid and utterly subjective; an experience mediated through the prism of our own selves and our own histories, yet one which can, on occasion, feel communal in particular ways. It’s a huge, nebulous notion we each have our own unique and shifting relationship with, even as it offers the possibility, at times, of shared moments of meaning with certain other individuals or groups living within it.

To attempt to distil such a complex, tangled concept into one single photograph would be reductive. But it’s possible to unpick a thread of this knotty idea in an image that represents an aspect of British culture; a frozen moment that speaks of the photographer’s own response to what life in the UK means to them. 

We invited ten image-makers to choose a photograph from their archive that recalls their personal experience of British culture. Some artists we spoke to were born and raised in the UK, while others were born elsewhere but have a significant relationship with Britain. 

From the joyful, tits-out hedonism of Roxy Lee’s British summertime to Aidan Zamiri’s poignant take on the “romance and stupidity” of life in Britain, and Julianknxx’s powerful evocation of the country’s inner-city environmental poverty, the pictures vary not only in subject matter but also in tone. They don’t offer a homogenous vision of life in the UK but, together, they create a messy and suitably conflicted snapshot of British culture. 

Visit the gallery above for a closer at the portraits while, below, the photographers explain their chosen image in their own words. 


A founder member of the documentary photography collective Police Kicking Kids based at the University of South Wales, Laurie Broughton’s immersive image-making practice explores themes relating to youth culture, community, and social housing.

“I chose this image because it represents the integrity, style, and appreciation of ballroom culture represented in Wales today.

“The image is of Leighton – the founding member of the Welsh ballroom community, dressed in his one-of-a-kind couture suit made from Welsh flags designed for the Welsh ball in 2021. Leighton is doing a dip which is one of the five elements of voguing. The image was a collaborative process made in Tonypandy in a working men’s club. My process was to document a sequence of images that had a degree of continuity. Whilst each member danced individually, behind the camera what you don’t see is the community cheering and whooping as each member ruled the stage. I wanted the working men’s club aesthetic and interior to juxtapose the new Welsh expressive culture. For Leighton, the image represents his Welsh heritage.  

“Britishness evokes a sense of belonging through expression. I naturally drift towards thinking about the iconic styles and fashions but also the small groups of old-age pensioners that play jazz weekly at the community centres” – Laurie Broughton


Roxy Lee is born and raised in Hackney in east London. She’s known for her candid ‘inside out’ portraits of the underground. 

“The two people in the picture are good friends of mine, so it means something to me in that sense – there’s an emotional connection. I just think it looks quite joyous. It wasn’t staged, it was spontaneous. It was taken at Glastonbury last year, in the crowd watching Diana Ross and I just snapped a quick photo because it was happening. I guess that’s just what I do. 

“I think this picture represents a few different aspects of British culture. I think it shows how fucking mental we get the second the sun comes out – we all want to get pissed, take our clothes off, have a laugh. There’s this feeling that all responsibility goes out of the window, which is something I’ve always enjoyed. 

“I also think it represents British festival culture. I mean, it’s taken at Glastonbury, which is obviously a huge deal – an institution – and, in some ways, represents a quintessential British party or summertime. 

“In general, Britishness is a huge part of who I am. I love where I’m from but I’m aware that I grew up in a city, in a borough that is extremely multicultural and open-minded to different ways of life. There was a huge squatter movement and a huge mixture of class, race, and privilege and it was great. That was so valuable. That is my idea of Britishness and why I would celebrate Britishness is that it can be so many things” – Roxy Lee


Glaswegian director and photographer Aidan Zamiri is known for his unique imagery that retains its power and poignancy while playing with the more irreverent elements of his distinct visual language.

“Without trying to be too metaphorical, I love the UK because it’s equal parts romantic and stupid; tragic and slapstick. Sometimes beautiful, oftentimes hideous, but generally always funny. 

“Any time I’m not in the UK, I listen to Lily Allen and I miss my life in London. British culture at its best is both irreverent and heartfelt and I love it here” – Aidan Zamiri


Douglas Irvine grew up in Perthshire on the east coast of Scotland. His photography practice is a balance of construction and documentation. Alongside shooting high-profile fashion editorials, Irvine’s image-making has explored themes of memory and visual histories.

“To me, this feels like a particularly British moment, for me it evokes so many things I find synonymous with Britain. The landscape is certainly one that I haven’t seen anywhere but Britain – harsh but beautiful; that clash of nature and industrial. We are on a wind farm in the highlands, a place called Inverness. We took a trip there to do some photos and get out of the city. 

“This is an outtake from a shoot I was doing. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was quite windy and pretty cold... I took this one of my friend Hugo as we were racing back to the car to get warm again. The way he’s inappropriately dressed – keeping up appearances; revolting – feels like quite a British way of thinking to me.

“I think Britishness is quite closely associated with rebellion. Even down to the way we dress. I have always been pretty opposed to any sort of conformity or authority. This may be more of a Scottish thing. I do feel as a nation we are quite obstinate and proud. This isn‘t necessarily a good thing” – Douglas Irvine


Born in the South of France, photographer Lucie Rox now works between Paris and London. Creating striking visuals and working across fashion, beauty, portraiture and landscape, Rox’s work also looks at Black womanhood and explores identities of the diaspora.

“This is a still from Power, Pain, Privilege – a film I made with musician Specimens which explores both of our experiences of being mixed-raced. [This image is taken from] the closing scene of the film. A mixed-race woman is submerged in water with just her head coming out. Her eyes are closed in a peaceful way.

“In the film – and in the record which was its starting point – we try to explore the mixed-race experience in personal ways but also in its historicity – the effect of European and British colonialism. For instance, the film and the record start with an extract from the ‘Fletcher Report’, a pretty despicable study of mixed-race families in Liverpool which looks at mixed-race children through the most essentialist racist lens you can imagine. There’s no way around the fact that it is integrant to British culture, so much of it being based on and stemming from its colonial past. The image is the other side, the one of coming to terms with that history and trying to find – inner – peace towards it.

“As a French person who lived in the UK for ten years or so, my eye on Britishness is one of an outsider’s. Beyond the history we’ve been talking about through the film – which has a lot of commonality with France – sometimes I can’t help but see Britishness through what might be some silly stereotypes: over politeness sometimes to the point of impracticality, absurd wit, carpet everywhere and two taps on a sink” – Lucie Rox


North London–born photographer, researcher, and costume designer Rachel Fleminger Hudson is known for her richly cinematic and, at times, painterly imagery inspired by the aesthetic of 70s Britain. Alongside becoming a recipient of the prestigious Dior Prix, Hudson shot the cover of the latest issue of Dazed.

“These photos were developed from an ongoing body of research on 1970s youth culture.In its staged fiction, I don’t necessarily feel that this image can truthfully represent any element of Britishness or British culture. In the process of restaging you come up against the complexities of pastiche, and the danger of softening and flattening the real.

“That being said, all images engage in this aestheticisation, even the documentary photos that this was conceived from, and I am interested in engaging in this paradox in the creation of the image. However, on a material level, most of the costumes involved came from the period, and in restaging these images with original pieces, there is an exciting re-representation which occurs.

“Britishness is in its essence highly contradictory and oppositional, and these contradictions or juxtapositions side by side are what can be both endearing and immensely difficult. Concrete and grass, race, class, collectivism and individualism… this amazing middling languor and apathy mixed with arrogance and indignance, pride and self-righteousness” – Rachel Fleminger Hudson


Working across portraiture, fashion and documentary, South London-based photographer Dexter Lander has created an arresting and compelling visual language undercut by humour and narrative.

“I kept coming back to this portrait of a reluctant pauper king for its obvious topical connotations. I liked the idea that if this man wears a crown he is dressing up but another wears it and it’s a birthright. The pomp and procedure of the coronation was hard to digest given the current state of our country. The day felt so archaic and out of touch with modern society, I like that this image plays with these ancient codes of dress yet the photo seems kind of mundane and everyday. The awkwardness and reluctance in the subject’s face seems so British in a way, this uncomfortable battle between the past and the present.

“The photo was staged. I shot this on the street in York whilst collaborating with Matty Bovan on a series of images that would be published in a book by Enlarge Your Memories called Need for Mead. This was an outtake from that. 

“I’m very against the idea of nationalism in general. I think the idea of grouping people together and tying them to a country is dangerous and takes individuality out of the conversation. I think the individuality and the humour of the British people is something to be proud of. That delicate balance between optimism, self-deprecation and absurdity continues to be so fruitful in what we as a country put out” – Dexter Lander


Layering poetry, essay, documentary, and music, Julianknxx uncovers the multiple realities of Black life in London, and our relationship with the built environment that holds us.

“The film [from which this still is taken] is anchored by the returning voice of Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, as she traces her journey to having air pollution officially listed as a cause of death of her nine-year-old daughter, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah – a first, to happen in the UK.

“Highlighting the disproportionate impact of air pollution in the inner city, this piece explores the stark realities of environmental poverty, the oppressive existence of melanated bodies and the working-class, who are often forced to live in urban estates and congested pockets of our city. However, rather than lament the weathering conditions and social pressures of Black experiences, the film honours a culture of resilience and perseverance, amongst those who have captured the cosmic” – Julianknxx


Born in New Zealand and based in London, Chinese fashion photographer Annie Lai has an instinct for capturing fleeting, special moments and distilling them in her dreamy, gorgeous images.

“I’ve lived in the UK for almost nine years now but have barely seen other British cities outside of London. I hopped on a train by myself last May to see Jack in the Green festival in Hastings where the picture was taken. I was always fascinated by paganism and it was an eye-opening experience.

“The festival was held on a hill by the sea, crowded with people in different green costumes, families in face paints and goth teenagers. I spent most of my time walking around and taking it all in. I took this picture while I was following this boy in his moss costume. It was completely spontaneous, as he was trying to locate his friends. I like that his costume almost blends in with the grass, perfect camouflage from being spotted. 

“In terms of British culture, I feel this represents when tradition meets the young generation. As clichéd as it sounds, as someone who works in the creative industry, one thing I love the most about British culture is the freedom… you can be whoever you want and dress however you want. Also the British passion for pubs and football” – Annie Lai


Sheffield-born Johny Pitts is an acclaimed writer and photographer whose work investigates themes of identity, community, memory, history, and culture. 

“At its worst, Britishness to me is pompous and prideful, and nostalgic for a time and place that never was. Britishness is at its best when it remembers how messy its true history is, and celebrates the contemporary multicultural society this history produced.

“My latest series of photographs, Home is Not a Place, is all about trying to complicate the idea of Britishness on the one hand, and normalise the idea of Blackness on the other. And this photograph, though seemingly quotidian, is very complicated! I’d just become acquainted with the work of African American photographer George Leary Love, who helped to pioneer colour photography in Brazil, and worked with negative space a lot, and his work really influenced my framing - I think I had to shoot on f16 in order to try and get as much in focus as possible. But it’s the story that is complicated, really.

“I was travelling the coast of Britain, which I saw as a kind of psychic fault line not only for Britain as a country, but for its Black community specifically – stories of asylum-seeking, deportation, Empire, it was all there, at the coast. So I knew I had to pay a visit to Belfast. There, I met with Tim Brannigan, who in his younger years had been in Prison - in the notorious H-Block on guns charges when he was in the IRA. We walked for hours together around Belfast, and he told layered stories - on the same front line where he’d had friends killed in the Troubles, he remembers having a flour sack fight with his childhood friends. He took me to the famous Milltown Cemetery, where many of those friends – often very young men – were buried. But, in some ways, his personal story is just as interesting. Tim’s Mum had an affair with a Ghanaian Doctor working in the local hospital and got pregnant with Tim. Knowing that her child would be brown, in order to hide the affair, she told her family she wanted to have the child alone. After giving birth, she told her family the baby had died in childbirth, then worked out an ingenious plan with her nurses and midwives to have the baby taken away into care, so she could adopt him back into the family a year later without anybody knowing!

“I just think [this image] shows how contested the notion of Britain is, and highlights a Britain beyond its borders – it reminds me of those famous words by Ambalavaner Sivanandan: ‘we are here because you were there’.”

Home is Not a Place is running at The Photographers’ Gallery from June 23 until September 24, 2023

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