The Royal Photographic Society was founded in 1853 to make the art and science of photography widely available. 168 years later, the RPS is still firmly committed to that goal - ensuring that everyone can access this dynamic medium, regardless of the colour of their skin, their gender, age or any aspect of their identity, background or circumstance.
In September 2020, the RPS made a series of commitments to help address this. One of these commitments was to create a group of “RPS Critical Friends” to help us approach this task with rigour and honesty. This group was formed through a careful and open process, to ensure it has independence, representing a wide range of experiences and perspectives. The individual members of the group are detailed below.
During the course of the 2021 year, our Critical Friends may consider any aspect of the RPS’s operations that they wish. Chaired by RPS Trustee Andy Golding, they will work with the CEO and the RPS staff team to explore how people from different backgrounds might engage with those areas. We are all committed to responding fully and openly to these enquiries as far as possible.
In addition, three Critical Friends (Sarah, Avijit and Mervyn) have been co-opted to the Board of Trustees, to ensure this work is integrated at the highest strategic level.
Yasser Alaa Mobarak
"I will be happy to be a critical friend of RPS to engage more youth and students in RPS's activities. I have been working in the youth sector for 12 years in educational and photographic projects. I'm an award-winning photographer, teacher and judge. I'm an International Youth Representative at the International Education and Resource Network where I represent and organize projects for 2 million students all over the world. I worked with Adobe Youth Voices, Youth Journalism International, Delhi College of Photography and Romania National Creativity Contest. I have many ideas to increase the engagement of youth in RPS."
Yasser Alaa Mobarak is an award-winning photographer from Alexandria, Egypt. He has won photography prizes from Sony World Photography Awards, National Geographic Traveler India, National Geographic Egypt, Travel Photographer of the Year, International Federation of Photographic Art, Photographic Society of America and Prix De La Photographie Paris. Yasser's works have been featured in The Guardian, VICE, National Geographic Magyarország, National Geographic Srbija, Digital Camera World Magazine, Amatuer Photographer Magazine, Photographer's Forum Magazine, N-Photo Magazine, Smart Photography Magazine, Silvershotz Magazine, Adobe Blog and PBS NewsHour. He is holder of AFIAP distinction from the International Federation of Photographic Art, Licentiate Distinction (LRPS) from Royal Photographic Society and Associateship from Image Colleague Society International. He was judge at Adobe Youth Voices Awards, Big China Circuit, Baku Salon, Romania's National Creativity Contest, The Photographic Angle and Youth Journalism International Contest. He is visiting Faculty at Delhi College of Photography and Author at Digital Photography School.
"I am a professional portrait photographer specialising in creative, documentary, and environmental photography for businesses, families and children, working on location with natural light. I have been a member of the Royal Photographic Society since 2016 and hold both Licentiate and Associate (Contemporary) distinctions. I also qualified at Licentiate level with the British Institute of Professional Photography. I speak regularly at RPS events, and in 2020 joined the Distinctions Panel as a Licentiate Advisor and Assessor.
Prior to the lifechanging events which altered my professional direction, I was a successful creative business and marketing strategist with expertise in health and media channels. I’ve worked with every kind of enterprise, from local estate agents and butchers, to national charities, the BBC, and global pharmaceutical brands. I think big, I get the job done, and I'm good at negotiating practical and political challenges. My approach is always objective and results-driven, and I put people first, front and centre of everything.
I live in a tiny Wiltshire village with an amazing community to which I contribute in many ways, including running our village website, and serving as a Parish Councillor. I am also a founding member (and was Trustee) of Flat Friends, the only UK charity dedicated to the support of women who choose to live flat, without reconstruction, as a result of or to prevent breast cancer. Before moving to Wiltshire, I was an elected Governor and Membership Committee Chair for the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, served as secretary for my local PRG, and worked as a volunteer for local organisations including the Pickering Cancer Drop-in Centre, Folly Wildlife Rescue and Hospital, and Streetkatz Rescue."
"The idea and purpose of the RPS Critical Friends group really enthuses me; I’m extremely passionate about diversity, inclusion and accessibility within the arts – and especially within the photography industry. On one level this subject is very personal to me, as someone who has experienced barriers to access both in terms of engaging with the RPS and in the photography industry more generally. I would love to be part of a group which is working towards removing some of these barriers, as I would especially like to try and ensure that photographers of a similar background to me face fewer difficulties in the future. More than that, I believe that encouraging diversity within an art-form opens us up to a whole new range of artistic possibilities and perspectives – something which we can all benefit from!
My background will allow me to provide a valuable perspective to this group. I am (relatively!) young, transgender and from a working-class background in the North of the UK. I am also a part-time professional photographer, and my work focuses on representing and empowering those who don’t often get to see themselves represented in images. My current project Bristol Trans Portraits aims to promote visibility and understanding of the trans community through portrait photography. I believe that all this makes me a good candidate for the Critical Friends group, as my experiences are different to that of many other photographers, and I am especially well placed to advise on LGBTQ issues.
Beyond this, I will also bring a strong sense of empathy and a balanced approach. I firmly believe that the RPS – and the photography industry more generally – needs to undergo changes in order to become more inclusive and accessible. However I also understand that there are likely to be many current members who feel very passionate about the organisation, and might be scared or wary about the idea of it changing. If appointed to the Critical Friends group, I would ensure that I am open to a variety of different opinions, and would aim to take an approach in which all parties feel listened to and represented."
"As a critical friend and someone who is on the Autistic Spectrum I am keen to be involved in the community by helping other people with autism manage the difficulties they face and also by increasing other people’s awareness of these challenges.
In addition to my first-hand experience of autism, I have spent a number of years working in schools, supporting children with special educational needs.
I was recently awarded a Fellowship distinction by the RPS for a panel of images which illustrates how my heightened visual awareness manifests itself in everyday life as a result of my autism. I am passionate about both photography and autism and I would like the opportunity to show how photography can be used as a means of creative expression to voice a person’s individuality."
"I am delighted to be invited to join the new RPS diversity and Inclusion Critical Friends group. I have been a Board member of Diversity and Equality subcommittees of Arts based charities for a number of years and have worked towards Arts Council criteria in ensuring that Diversity and Equality of Protected Characteristics are at the core of artistic output, Board and staff composition, behaviour and thinking. I’ve also been involved in the assessment of public institutions against Equality criteria.
For a number of years, I’ve sat on the panel of a University Committee which funds Human Rights defenders in areas of conflict around the world who are protecting people against victimisation principally because of gender, race or sexuality. I’m lucky to live in a City of Sanctuary and have helped in efforts to assist refugees and asylum seekers. As a past Chairman of an Interfaith Group, I’ve tried to develop mutual respect between people of different faiths and none and have worked with the National network to Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) objectives. I’ve also organised Public discussions and lecture on multiculturalism in the context of a secular state by Baron Professor Bhikhu Parekh FBA FRSA (past Vice Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, past Chairman of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, Member and Patron of the Lord’s Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life and author of a report to Government on multiculturalism in Britain)."
Mervyn is a staunch advocate for the use of photography as a means to engage and inspire communities and individuals. It is his expertise in this area which he brings to the RPS.
Within his photographic practice over the past 12 years he has worked as the Community Engagement Officer for The New Art Exchange ( the largest gallery in the UK dedicated to culturally diverse contemporary visual arts) and with schools, using photography to help bridge the gap between urban and rural schools, and introduce black role models through photography workshops.
10 years ago (until present day) he co-founded the Nottingham Photographer’s Hub, giving a voice to marginalised people and communities. They work with Adults with mental ill-health and Young People who are not in education, employment or training. During this time Mervyn has gained an MA in Photography, and continues to develop his personal photographic skills and knowledge.
(Chairman, The Disabled Photographers’ Society)
"My career in aviation was cut short by a sudden and severe illness in 2001 which has now left me with a lifelong disability. I had to quickly come to terms with the fact that my life had changed and that I had to accept a new normal. While flying aircraft around the world I had always taken a camera with me, but what was once just a hobby has now become a driving force in my day to day life. I joined the DPS on recommendation from a friend who was in a wheelchair and who never let that get in the way of him taking some great images. The sudden change from being a fit and healthy individual to the realisation that life is not going to ever be the same again is a difficult one to cope with. In many ways I owe my sanity to photography for giving me a new purpose in life.
Inclusivity is a word that is often bandied around by people who often have very little understanding of what it actually means to be excluded and often even less idea of how easy it can be to fix that. It is vitally important that those who need to be included have a voice in discussions around the issue. Even the best of groups often come up short because of a lack of fully understanding the issue. I am more than happy to assist in any way that I can to ensure that nobody gets left behind."
Renée is a curator, writer and scholar with a special interest in African and diasporic lens-based visual arts practices. She is currently Senior Curator and Head of Curatorial & Collection at Autograph, London, a charitable arts agency working internationally in photography and film. During the past two decades, she has organised numerous exhibitions in Europe, America and Africa, and lectures regularly on photography, visual culture, and curatorial activism. Her recent publications and exhibitions include Lina Iris Viktor: Some Are Born to Endless Night—Dark Matter (2019/20), Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama—Hail the Dark Lioness (2017 – present); Phoebe Boswell: The Space Between Things (2018/19); and Black Chronicles IV (2018). Mussai is Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg; Associate Lecturer at University of the Arts London and since 2009, regular guest curator and former Fellow at the Hutchins Centre for African & African American Research at Harvard University.
June is Chair of the RPS Women in Photography Group.
"I work both as a Corporate Event Producer and as a Photographer and I’m committed to promoting women in photography. My photography practice is influenced by an interest in community especially in my local area - Harrow. The central concerns of my work are themes of community, diversity, memory and belonging drawing from local archives, the Internet, and personal narratives. I have an MA in Photography and Urban Culture from the Goldsmith University and a BA in Photography from the University of Westminster.
As well as being chair of RPS Women in Photography group I am also a member of an all female collective called FORM, our work has been shown throughout the UK including Brighton Photo Festival and FORMAT Derby."