Vincenzo Montefinese, Jason Larkin and Richard John Seymour are the Single Image runners-up of the 2016 International Photography Awards
Last month we announced the winners of the 2016 International Photography Awards, with Juno Calypso winning the Series Award for her project Joyce, and Felicity Hammond winning the Single Image Award for her image Restore to Factory Settings. Competition in the Single Image category was fierce, with over 1500 entries from 92 different countries spanning from portraiture to photojournalism, landscape to fine art.
As entries were whittled down to the final few, there was spirited debate among the judging panel, which included TJ Boulting’s Hannah Watson, Magnum Photo’s Emily Graham, Tate’s Emma Lewis and photographer Ewen Spencer. This week we’ll be announcing the runners-up, starting with the Single Image category.
Indelible images documenting the ongoing migrant crisis has gripped the world in the past 12 months, so it came as little surprise that this year’s IPA received several strong entries depicting scenes of broken borders and desperate families fleeing conflict. Yet Italian photojournalist Vincenzo Montefinese’s approach was different. His shortlisted image was taken in his hometown – the southern Italian city of Taranto, in which a reception centre for immigrants is situated.
“Taranto is the front line of the humanitarian and military operation called Mare Nostrum,” the 41-year-old explains. “In summer 2014, about 150,000 refugees were saved in the Mediterranean Sea and brought to the Ionian coast. I decided to stay in my town, documenting the precariousness of these places men, women and children travel through, where sometimes they stop for long and tiring periods waiting for different destinations.”
Depicted are two Nigerian men washing in makeshift showers, capturing a serendipitous moment of dignity. “There are so many elements in the picture – the clouds behind the building, the layers of cardboard, the silhouetted man,” says IPA judge Ewen Spencer, who preferred it above other pictures depicting migrants for it’s “more hopeful, almost celebratory” qualities.
For Montefinese, research is paramount when embarking on a project of serious importance. “I spend a long time talking with people, trying to integrate into their environment. I spent whole days without taking a picture; only listening at the stories of people I met, trying to understand. Every time people open the door of their suffering to me, I feel it’s my duty as a witness to greet them back through the language of photography.
“It would be pretentious on my part to affirm that an image can change history, but I strongly believe in the power of the image. If someone sees a picture of mine and gets curious, indignant or starts asking questions, I’m satisfied.”
Find more of Vincenzo’s work here.
Jason Larkin has received international acclaim for his social documentary projects, portraiture and reportage. His shortlisted image is from his series Waiting, in which he shot South Africans seeking shelter from the harsh sun during inactive moments.
The series, which was published by Photoworks & Fourthwall Books last July, is a meditation on the experience of waiting, which he saw as almost a state of being for people from Johannesburg, a “collective, city-wide experience.” After spending more time there it became clear that this was not just an urban quirk, but the result of decades of a structural inequality difficult to eradicate.
“Much of the waiting I [saw] in Johannesburg was for people to simply get to and from work. However, as I talked with those waiting I soon realised how long this waiting could take, and the implications of this,” the 37-year-old explains. “The geographical zoning that democratic South Africa has inherited, as well as an apartheid-era transport system, means workers can wait hours to start a long ride home, making the daily commute an evident legacy of an unjust system that still persists today.“
Larkin’s figures seeking shelter from the glaring summer light carry an ambiguity that IPA judge and TJ Boulting director Hannah Watson found compelling: “Jason Larkin’s image was visually intriguing, which you need as a single image to have enough impact to convey in just one shot – something of the narrative or the context. Who is this person? Is it a portrait? Their face is hidden so we are denied their identity, so it must be a commentary on the wider issue of the place where they are. They are standing at a crossroads, where are they even going? A enigmatic and a strong image.”
This uncertainty that the image carries and the raising of questions are what Larkin values most in images, he explains. “Images that linger with me tend to have more questions associated to them than any immediate answers. There are aesthetic qualities that are important, but the idea of the work has to be engaging and present in the work, without this the image is just a colourful momentary distraction.”
Find more of Jason’s work here.
Richard John Seymour
British photographer, filmmaker and designer Richard John Seymour was shortlisted for an image taken from his series, Serial Narratives, a look at China’s central role in the epic scale of modern manufacturing and supply involved in global commerce.
His work has previously been shown at Multiplied (Christie’s art fair) and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and has won the Royal Academy of Arts’ British Institution Prize and the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward competition.
As the 27-year-old tells BJP, his interest in the epicentre of trade was informed by a series of trips made to China: “[It] opened my eyes to the level of production required to supply the world’s needs. What I really learned – and what probably couldn’t have been uncovered through research – was to see how people relate to their environment at the scale of the individual.”
It is this dynamic, how the individual relates to their surroundings in the context of an increasingly mechanised and technology-driven society, that is central to Seymour’s concerns. In a country of over a billion people, this question of the diminishing value of personhood is hard to ignore.
“[In Serial Narratives] there are shots where there aren’t any people – a reflection of the fact that sometimes it is [now] economically beneficial to remove human labour all together. These spaces in my mind became strange, 21st century landscapes. Almost like a man-made wilderness, absent of people yet functioning for us all.”
Seymour’s rigorous sense of composition is informed by a desire for “a strong balance between order and chaos, an overall structure that frames something that is a bit more organic, chaotic, or forms a counterpoint to the geometric structure of the composition,” as well as connecting with the viewer on an intellectual level.
Tate assistant curator Emma Lewis was immediately attracted by the way image’s formal qualities were closely linked to the ideas it held:
“The use of perspective makes it formally very strong and immediately striking, while his decision to include the lone worker in the scene creates a narrative that conveys exactly the story that he wishes to in one frame.”
With his fascination with “how we adapt to suit our environments and how we adapt our environments to suit us”, it comes as no surprise that Seymour has previously worked in architecture. In China, he sees a country where “the individual is left to adapt to an environment not designed for human need, but for economic. I would like to take this idea further in my next works, as for me it raises very tough questions about the advancement, progress and sustainability of mankind.”
Find more of Richard’s work here.
The deadline for applications for the 2019 edition of BJP International Photography Award is 20 December 2018 – 4pm GMT. Apply now!