Photographer focus: Richard Ansett

08 November 2018


Richard Ansett has had twelve images selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London since 2002.


The two portraits by Ansett which were selected for the 2018 exhibition, are of children caught up in extremely traumatic circumstances – the Grenfell Tower fire and Manchester bombing. He has created a series of work for each tragedy from which the images on display were extracted.



Ansett on the selected portraits:  

Both images, ‘Erin, 12’ (below) and ‘Danel, 7’ (top), recognise young people caught up in recent national tragedies and I hope challenge the expectation of resilience that we often assume of children. 


My interest is in the impossible question of how their lives may have changed. A child’s present and their potential are inextricably linked.



After The Attack, Erin, 12 from the series After The Attack (The Manchester Bombing) England, UK

Ansett's statement on the Children of Grenfell series reads:
These images are of 5 children who survived the Grenfell Tower Fire, shot on the eve of the 6 month anniversary.

The word celebrity has positive connotations but there are different forms of attention, ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’. When the spotlight falls on us it can be both destructive and chaotic as well as therapeutic, some of us crave the attention and others withdraw. It is impossible to pre-judge the reaction and any single response should not be assumed and especially with children we have a duty of care.

All of us are exposed to events in childhood that alter the shape of our adult relationship to the world. It takes time to separate the behaviours that have moulded our genetic blueprint, especially those that limit our ability to realize our full potential. There are no short cuts, we can only start to work on an injury when it is realised.

It is complex and often impossible to isolate any one reason that might limit our future and give it a simple label. But, here there is an inescapable event for blame, an undeniable dark monolith and not just a personal private experience to it; there must be a relationship to the public and historic disaster also. Whilst all these children are survivors and share connections to the event, their response is and will be entirely unique. Their lives are indisputably altered.


A short Q & A with Richard Ansett by Emily Mathisen, RPS Web Content Manager:

EM: How did you first make contact with the subjects of the photographs?

RA: Both these portraits are taken from recent commissions by long term clients that I have a very trusting and empathic relationship with. The portraits of the children from Grenfell Tower were shot during a Channel 4 commission for the ‘Alternative Christmas Message’ and Erin was part of a larger series of portraits of the teenager girls affected by the Manchester Bombing for BBC Creative.

Both clients allow me a huge amount autonomy and both are interested in developing a wider body of work that represents the mental health of the nation now.

EM: Who decided their eyes should be closed?


RA: I was looking for something more than the conventional documentation that might bring further consideration of their experience. As an experiment I asked Danel (who was the first child I photographed) to close his eyes and then decided to ask all the sitters to do the same.



EM: Could you tell us something about your technical photographic process?


RA: I have a portable studio that I take with me to locations and I set up in the gymnasium of a local school. I use powerful battery operated Profoto B2 flash with a soft box allowing the light naturally fall off from one side. These portraits are shot on a Mamiya 645 DF+ Credo 60 medium format with the Schneider Kreuznach 40-80mm LS f/4.0-5.6 Zoom lens, which allows for an incredible, intimate scrutiny of the human face.


EM: Is the Grenfell project going to continue?


RA: I am in discussions with the community about how else we can use this work to keep their experience in the public view and as an aid to healing.

Amiel 10 copyright Richard Ansett 2017
Amiel, 10 from the Children of Grenfell series. Amiel is Danel's brother (top image).

Hayam 10 copyright Richard Ansett 2017
Hayam, 10 from the Children of Grenfell series.

Luana 12 copyright Richard Ansett 2017
Luana, 12 from the Children of Grenfell series.

Megan 10 copyright Richard Ansett 2017
Megan, 10 from the Children of Grenfell series.

Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS, RPS Director of Education and Public Affairs, says: “Richard’s photography is extraordinarily moving, tackling a range of challenging subjects, particularly around the impact of devastating events on young people. His most recent project highlights the children directly impacted by the Grenfell Tower fire. His work is frequently both documentary and therapeutic, and an example of great photography to serve differing purposes.”

Copyright Richard Ansett


Ansett's portrait ‘Two Women in the Street, Sheffield’ (above) was selected in 2015. It is from a series exploring the pressures of immigration in deprived communities.





View the feature on the Grenfell series in the RPS Journal here.

Visit Ansett’s website here.

Read more about the 2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize here.

Read an interview on Ansett’s work in the Guardian here.

Read an interview on Ansett’s work by the National Portrait Gallery here.

Picture copyright: all images copyright Richard Ansett.

Top image: Danel, 9  from the series Children of Grenfell England, UK. The Grenfell fire claimed 72 lives in June 2017. They were photographed by Richard Ansett six months after flames engulfed the residential tower block in west London.