British Journal of Photography’s annual International Photography Award is a leading showcase for contemporary photographic talent. Simon Bainbridge, editor of BJP since 2003, and the original founder of the magazine’s signature award, is overseeing its 11th edition. So, when he sits down to judge the prize with an elite panel of industry professionals, what does he look for in a winner?
The International Photography Award will provide one winner with a three-week solo exhibition at TJ Boulting, the Fitzrovia art gallery that is also home to award-winning publisher, Trolley Books
They will also be given a £5000 production grant from the UK’s leading pro-lab, Metro Imaging, have their work published across British Journal of Photography’s print and digital channels, and be showcased globally on WeTransfer, the file sharing platform reaching over 80 million creatives each month.
But what does Bainbridge – and his fellow judges, Brett Rogers, director of the The Photographers’ Gallery, Michael Mack, founding director of Mack Books, photographer Nadav Kander, Hannah Watson, director of TJ Boulting and Trolley Books, and Chantal Webber, founder of zeitgeisty photography agency, Webber Represents – look for in a winner? How do you stand out among the many photographers who enter the award?
“I am looking for a coherent set of images that work together effectively to tell a story or convey an idea or approach,” Bainbridge says. “I want to see visual flair, and an understanding of how to use photography as an application or a vehicle for an enquiry or investigation. I’m hoping to see work that has the photographer’s signature, rather than their influences. But most of all, I’m looking for surprise.”
Over an editorship of 13 years, Bainbridge has moved the magazine from a news-based weekly focused on the photography trade to a premium monthly that explores the trends and ideas behind contemporary photography practice, from fine art and documentary to editorial and commercial.
“Our readers are primarily practicing or emerging photographers working in the creative industries,” he says. “We don’t put the same emphasis on jobbing professionals as we did when we were more of a trade journal, in part because there aren’t as many of the ‘general purpose’ operators these days. Now, our focus is on people who make signature images – be that through their aesthetic, their choice of subject or their particular approach. And that’s what most high-end professional photographers trade on. As a magazine, we’re more about the ideas behind images rather than the how.
That approach to photography also extends to the International Photography Award. “I want to see images that offer more than what the photographer saw in front of the camera,” Bainbridge says. “I want to see a voice at work, tackling issues, processes, emotions, or the very medium itself. The series needs to intrigue me as much as arrest my attention.”