MPs' portraits: Photos show 'human' side of Parliament

By Georgina Pattinson
BBC Parliament Online

image copyrightUK Parliament
image captionPaul Masterton: "Something tells me my Commons portrait photo is unlikely to kill off the Shermanator nickname I've carried around since high school"

New portraits of MPs have been produced - and they've gone down a storm.

Photographer Chris McAndrew, who's snapped rock stars, actors and ballerinas, took the pictures in the Commons just after MPs were sworn in, following June's surprise general election.

Tory Paul Masterton, the new MP for East Renfrewshire, told Radio 4's Today programme the pictures went down well on social media - and showed MPs weren't "alien species" but a "reflection of us as real people".

"It's the first time we've been able to look at notifications on Twitter and burst out laughing rather than feel like we wanted to burst into tears," he says.

"It's been done in good spirits... It's been a nice start to the summer."

Certainly there's a real freshness to the pictures - particularly compared with what went before.

Mr Masterton ruefully acknowledged his nickname.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

And Conservative Sir Edward Leigh harked back to a previous look.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Labour MP Carolyn Harris was another.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The impetus behind these new portraits comes from the digital team at UK Parliament, led by Carrie Barclay.

How did she hope people would see the pictures?

"I wanted to focus on the human element of Parliament," she says. "Chris's distinctive style and ability to put people immediately at ease meant we could capture a raw, but sophisticated, image that showed MPs as relatable people.

"I want people to see these portraits as part of our commitment to a more open and transparent, modern Parliament."

And there's certainly been a positive response on social media.

"It's been wonderful to see how people have reacted to the portraits," she says.

"There's a clear need for members of the public to be able to recognise the person that represents them in Parliament, but seeing how so many people (and plenty of MPs) have used them to strike up conversations and share jokes and stories has been really exciting."

How did the team get so many busy MPs in front of the camera? They used the moments after each MP was sworn in following their election to Parliament, which "gave us an unprecedented opportunity to take an official portrait of each member without complicated shoot schedules, myriad locations, diary management, or difficult staffing issues", Barclay explains on her blog.

She adds: "Chris has an innate ability to put people at ease immediately. It's one of the reasons he's had the distinguished career that he has, and it's one of the reasons we chose to work with him.

"Chris is incredibly down to earth, and the atmosphere in the room was relaxed and informal.

image copyrightUK Parliament
image captionLabour's Stephanie Peacock is one of the new intake of MPs

"Lots of MPs were laughing and joking with each other as they waited their turn, and that also really helped - they were happy and relaxed when they walked through the door - which is half the battle."

'No hidden agenda'

The portraits are informal, direct and open. They are there to be used for MPs themselves, as well as for wider use. Will it make the public see MPs as people, rather than part of a system?

"There's no hidden agenda with these portraits," she says. "MPs are people, just like everyone else. We simply wanted to have strong, recognisable and consistent portraits of them that were so good, everyone would want to use them. We want to promote an open and transparent, modern Parliament, and these portraits support that ambition."

It's peers next - all 800 plus of them. That's going to pose something more of a challenge, surely?

"When we started this project we weren't sure what we'd be able to achieve," she says.

"The snap election afforded us an opportunity, and we made the most of it. There are plans to update the photos of members of the House of Lords on the parliamentary website but it's too early in the planning to be able to give you any more details on that."

These photos of MPs, and all related crops, are released under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence.

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