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Report From This Year's Sony World Photography Awards

Our Sony World Photography Awards reporter, Martin Jordan, joined the ceremony in London last week. Here's what he thinks about the winners and the overall event.

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This year the Sony World Photography Awards were held in London. As I made my way along the red carpet trying to look nonchalant, dresses flashing and cameras popping. I did get a sense of glamour, even though this was outside the Odeon Leicester Square, rather than the promenade at Cannes.
It tickled me that there was a crowd of excitable girls craning forward to catch a glimpse of a celeb. I guess they were under the misapprehension this was a film premiere. They were due for disappointment, photographers these days have about as much celebrity as accountants.
We were about to find out the winners from over 105,000 images from 162 countries. There were 30 prizes up for grabs, split between open (amateur), professional and publishing.
Inside the cinema things got underway with Marc Dolan, the comedian, bouncing onto the stage, all energy and excitement. The short listed work for each category was shown on a huge screen before the winner was announced. It was interesting to note that some work got spontaneous applause, which invariably didn’t win. If the WPO had used a clapometer a`la Opportunity Knocks (yes I am that old), the results would have been very different.
Two and a half hours later, even though the speeches were mercifully short I could sense the audience, or was it just me, getting award fatigue. Marc Dolan tried his best, but he had run out of superlatives, and his excitable introductions for presenters we had never heard of, was wearing thin.

Cougar with Moss
© Frank Day. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

After the awards, important guests and myself were whisked away (well loaded onto 50 seater coaches) to the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lanefor the Gala Dinner. It was good to talk photography around the table, particularly as two of the guests were short listed photographers. Rather bizarrely they were both called Frank, one American and one German. Both Franks knew that they hadn’t won, but came anyway. Seems like a long way to go for a free meal.

Looking through the list of finalists I saw there were another four Franks! If your name is Frank, you know what you have to do next year.
The following day I went on a tour of the exhibition at Somerset House, which is open until 22 May. We were led around by Scott Grey the WPO Director, who introduced us to the winners in front of their respective works. Each photographer spoke about their ideas and answered questions.
The problem was that althoughSomerset House is a wonderful space, its acoustics are terrible and much as I strained my lugholes, I couldn’t hear a word the winners said. So I just relied on my eyes, and as in any competition, you always seem to get the ‘wow!’ and the ‘What were the judges thinking?!’ This year’s panel was no exception.
There are too many entries to go through all of them with you, I suggest you go to the competition's website to have a look, or even better get down to Somerset House, but I will mention a few images that caught my eye.
I was surprised at how much HDR was in evidence. Don’t they realize we’ve all done it, ticked the box and moved on? It’s not funny and it’s not clever, especially in documentary. Also as my friend who is a retoucher pointed out, some of the processing was hideous, over-sharpening, jpeg artefacts, halos, you name it. Have to say I hadn’t noticed, until she pointed it out.

Photo by Amit Madheshiya
© Amit Madheshiya. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

The set of photos by Amit Madheshiya were very noisy, but in this case I could forgive him, as they were taken in a tented cinema inIndia with only the screen as a light source. The result was a great set of portraits of people looking at the screen oblivious to the photographer and completely absorbed by the film. I thought maybe I could try this at my local multi-plex, but decided against it on the basis that I would either get my camera shoved up my light source or get arrested…

© Fabrizio Cestari. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

There were a superb set of pictures of a surfer in the style of Jesus by Italian Fabrizio Cestari, on the cross, at the last supper etc. The processing I thought was a little heavy handed but the set-ups and execution were incredibly imaginative and creative.

Der Scheitel
© Saja Seus. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

A set of shots that made me smile was a series of shots by Saja Seus from Germany, of a naked woman wearing outlandish merkins. I can’t think in what context I would have ever used the word 'merkin' or why I know it, but in case you don’t... it's a pubic wig.

Buffalo Race
© Chan Kwok Hung. Courtesy of Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

Overall winner of the open awards was a picture by Chan Kwok Hung from Hong Kong of racing buffalos in Indonesia. This picture is in-your-face action, the water, the charging buffalos and the man’s animated face, all incredibly dynamic. It’s more impressive when you realise the photographer was in their path! I have a nagging thought though that I have seen a similar picture somewhere before.

Fat Man Competition
© Pavel Wolberg. Courtesy of Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

Another series of images I liked, which give an insight into another culture, were of the Biafran ‘Fat Man Competition’ by Israeli Pavel Wolberg. The competitors are fed only cow’s blood and milk for 3 months to fatten up. Of course compared to some American fatties they are in the super-light weight division, however I was surprised to learn this won the Sport category...

The Great Pretenders
© Renhui Zhao / 2902 Gallery, Singapore. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

One set of photos which intrigued me, winning the Still Life Section, was the great Pretenders by Renhui Zhao from Singapore. He said the images were based on a competition held in Japan, where there was a prize given for the best camouflaged insect. See if you can spot the insect in his plants, but don’t try too hard, the competition is a figment of Renhui’s imagination as are the insects.

© Javier Arcenillas. Courtesy Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

A guy I must mention is Javier Arcenillas from Spain. Out of 105,000 entries he won the current affairs section and the contemporary issues section, he was also runner up in the sport category and travel category, and his name is not even Frank.

The Hunter
 © Alejandro Chaskielberg courtesy of Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

The overall winner for the L’Iris D’ (Photographer of the Year) and the $25,000 prize was Argentinean Alejandro Chaskielberg for a set of images taken on an island in the Parana River Delta, Argentina. The guy spent two years living with the Islanders in order to document the way they live and work. The shots presented were taken at night using moonlight, torches and flash.
I found them over-saturated and over-produced and rather disappointing for the overall winner. One shot was of a guy carrying a log, which had to be suspended by wires because of the long exposure! I didn’t get it. The judges however said ‘these carefully directed pictures tell solid truths- about toil and communality and marginal economic survival – in a splendidly allusive way.’
The exhibition is well worth seeing though. There is also a special section devoted to the work of Bruce Davidson who won an award for outstanding contribution to photography.
It seems like the Sony World Photography awards are going from strength to strength. I am sure next year's competition will be even bigger and better.

A Brit won the campaign category again this year, but that’s all we won. So in the words of Delia  Smith, ‘lets be avin’ you’. I know I’m going to give it a go... after I’ve taken some advice from Javier.

Visit the Sony World Photography Awards for more information.

Words by Martin Jordan visit his website: Jordan Photography

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