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Rory Doyle Wins ZEISS Photography Award 2019

American photographer Rory Doyle gives a fascinating insight into Afro American cowboy culture in his award-winning photography series.

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'Delta Hill Riders' © Rory Doyle, United States, 2019 ZEISS Photography Award

'Delta Hill Riders' © Rory Doyle, United States, 2019 ZEISS Photography Award 


American photographer Rory Doyle won the fourth ZEISS Photography Award with his photo series 'Delta Hill Riders'.

Since 2017, Doyle documents the life of Afro American cowboys and cowgirls in the Mississippi Delta. His pictures provide outstanding insights into this barely noticed community. An estimated quarter of all cowboys after the civil war were African Americans. ''Nonetheless, the white John Wayne stereotype dominates the public perception of this culture,'' Doyle explains.

With his project, he wants to put this community into public awareness. His pictures are an astounding reclassification of the American cowboy myth and break with stereotypes dominating the public reception of Afro American culture up to today. 

''My pictures show the pure joy of the cowboys and cowgirls. You can see their affection for their horses and community – and how they pass down their traditions among generations,'' says Doyle.

Especially regarding today's political environment, he wants to show new facets of rural life in America and provide a counter-narrative to the mostly negative coverage about Afro American culture. 


'Delta Hill Riders' © Rory Doyle, United States, 2019 ZEISS Photography Award

'Delta Hill Riders' © Rory Doyle, United States, 2019 ZEISS Photography Award 


With his unique mix of a strong social message, reclassification of the topic and his photographic aesthetics, Doyle convinced the judges of the ZEISS Photography Award. British photography experts Simon Frederick (artist, photographer, filmmaker), Shoair Mavlian (leader of Photoworks agency) and German picture editor at STERN magazine Dagmar Seeland had the difficult task to choose a winner from all the countless contributions. The winner’s pictures should not only fulfil professional and aesthetic requirements but also meet the contest’s topic 'Seeing Beyond - The Unexpected'. 

''The quality of this year’s entries was very high, with many surprising and creative takes on the theme,'' explains Dagmar Seeland. ''Choosing a winner from such a crop of talent was never going to be easy, but ‘Delta Hill Riders’ was a clear favourite. Rory Doyle purposefully plays with and breaks the stereotypes attached to the subject of cowboys, and does this with great skill and warmth. His connection with his subjects is evident in every beautifully composed image. A fine visual storyteller, and a deserving winner.''

As the winner of the ZEISS Photography Award 2019, Rory Doyle will be invited to London and Oberkochen to receive his award, talk with experts at ZEISS and to receive €12,000 worth of ZEISS lenses and €3,000 to cover travel costs for a photography project. 

Photographers from over 150 countries submitted nearly 58,000 images for this year’s contest under the theme 'Seeing Beyond - The Unexpected' with 6 more photo series, by the following photographers, also been shortlisted: 

  • Michela Carmazzi (Italy)
  • Ken Hermann (Denmark) 
  • Benedicte Kurzen & Sanne De Wilde (France and Belgium) 
  • Petra Leary (New Zealand) 
  • Lara Wilde (Germany) 
  • Gangfeng Zhou (China)

Rory Doyle’s winning photo series will be exhibited as part of the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition in Somerset House in London from 18 April until 6 May 2019, together with a selection from this year’s ZEISS Photography Award’s shortlist.

Last year, around 12,000 photographers from 140 countries submitted nearly 90,000 photos and Nick Hannes was chosen as the overall winner

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