Kono, a student at Westminster Adult Education College, London, was one of three finalists from the hundreds of entrants taking part from colleges and universities all over the UK. Originally from Japan, Kono came to England to study photography, and the achievement of winning the title Ilford Photo Student of the Year 2006 is so far the pinnacle of his photographic endeavours.
Along with his co-finalists, Stuart Matthews of Plymouth College of Art and Design, and Torquil Bennett of University College Falmouth, Kono won a cash prize of £350 plus £250 of Ilford Photo materials, while their respective colleges will each receive Ilford Photo material worth £500. As part of their prize, the three then went on to separately spend time with professional photographers, observing their ways of working and achieving the results for which they are famous.
Torquil Bennett was assigned to Klaus Thymann who has been at the top of his profession ever since he opened his first studio in 1995. He has covered a wide variety of assignments including work for The Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, Canon, Coca-Cola, Levi's, Nike, Adidas, Vodafone, BMW motorcycles, Carlsberg, and Sony PlayStation. He also provides input to many style magazines, and is equally know for his music photography.
“That was a tremendous experience,” says Bennett. “Klaus makes fantastic use of lighting, especially on the Canon campaign he was shooting while I joined him. He works like no other photographer with whom I have come into contact - his confidence level is amazing, and I learned a great deal from my time with him.”
Similarly enthusiastic about their mentoring sessions are Stuart Matthews and Yoshi Kono who both spent time with Les McLean. As famous for his darkroom work and the writing he has done for many of the UK's leading photography publications as he is for his superb photography, incorporating major, definitive work on the landscapes of his native Yorkshire, McLean took both students under his wing for individual one-to-one coaching.
“Les was really great,” says Matthews. “The time we spent in the darkroom was so valuable. He was able to show me how printing is really done in the commercial world, which is quite different to the way I have been practising it to date. Understanding his approach has opened up this aspect of photography to me in a way I would never have realised, and made me realise just how creative it is possible to be.”
Finding a different way of working was also the experience of Kono. “I didn't realise I was so lacking in darkroom techniques until my time with Les,” he says. “His approach and way of looking at images is very special and totally unique. It has provided a basis for all my processing and printing in the future, both for chemical procedures and for digital work. It was a very special time which I will always remember with appreciation and gratitude.”
McLean himself found the experience of working with Matthews and Kono enjoyable and interesting. “They were both so keen and intense,” he says. “It was a pleasure to work with such enthusiastic students. They had quite different approaches to the work, but their keenness on learning and passion for photography shone through. They were constantly asking questions, wanting to fully understand not only the techniques being followed, but also the thinking and reasoning behind them."
“I fully believe that both Stuart and Yoshi have bright futures ahead of them - they have the determination to succeed, and the drive to carry them into whatever spheres of photography they decide to follow. I wish them, and Torquil Bennett, all success, and the breaks which will enable them to realise their full potential.”
Adding to Kono's benefit from winning the competition is the grand prize: a medium format Mamiya 711 camera kit with a retail value of £1800. This highly regarded system, used by professional photographers around the world for a wide range of styles and genres, includes some of the sharpest medium format lenses available.
“It was a difficult competition to judge,” says Ilford Photo marketing director Howard Hopwood. “The standard of work being submitted was so high, and incorporated so many different attitudes, that the judging panel really had to attempt to explore the photographers' psyche in order to gauge which best interpreted the theme of the competition, which was to accurately reflect the innate beauty of black-and-white photography.
“In the end, it was decided that the raw edge displayed by Yoshi Kono's street photography work just took it that degree further, and merited the overall prize.”