This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Sony World Photography Awards and the standard, as ever, is very high although there is also a slight sense among the judges of, if not compassion fatigue, then a weariness with having to view so many photos of war, crime and political upheaval, and the subsequent toll these activities take on human beings.
There are a number of different categories on show including portraiture, documentary, architecture and wildlife, but with reference to Belgian Photographer of the Year Frederik Buyckx, Chair of Judges and exhibition curator Zelda Cheatle says of his work: “Landscape is often overlooked but it is central to our existence…I hope this award will inspire many more photographers to take pictures that do not simply encompass the terrible aspects of life in these troubled times but also capture some of the joys and loveliness in each and every environment.”
This sentiment is echoed by Scott Gray, CEO of the World Photography Organisation who stated: “I feel that in many cases it is easy to shock but it can be so tremendously difficult to capture a sophisticated elegance, that really is so beautiful it shows the medium of photography at its best.”
Buyckx has produced a series of photographs entitled ‘Whiteout’ which he shot in the Balkans, Scandinavia and Central Asia. He focused on remote areas where there are few inhabitants because of the harsh climate and the tough living conditions. Buyckx wanted to depict the struggle to exist in such locales as he shows a donkey pushing itself up from rolling in the snow in the mountains of Albania, the bags on its back testament to its role as beast of burden, no matter what the conditions.
China’s Songquan Deng, commended in the Open Architecture category, displays a high degree of Scott Gray’s “sophisticated elegance” in his sweepingly majestic shot of the spiral staircase in the Vatican Museum, taken with a wide angle lens to capture it in all its beauty.
Wilson Lee of Hong Kong was shortlisted in the Open Still Life category for his moody shot of night falling on Awaji Island in southern Japan. It is almost a photographic image of a Hopper painting, both enigmatic and a little eerie.
Mastery of lighting is also demonstrated in Will Burrard-Lucas’s shot of a wild hyena in a Zambian national park. The UK photographer, who won first place in the Natural World professional category with this photo, used a camera ‘camouflage’ technique familiar from wildlife documentaries for close-up filming. “I wanted to photograph them at night. The stars in Africa are so beautiful that I also wanted to include them in my image. I used a remote-control “BeetleCam” to position my camera on the ground so that I could photograph the hyena with the beautiful starry sky behind.
“This is a single exposure. I lit the hyena with two wireless off-camera flashes and used a long shutter speed to expose the stars… My aim was to capture never-before-seen images of African wildlife at night and to show nocturnal animals such as lions and hyenas in their true element.”
This year the awards have made space – three rooms no less – for acclaimed British photographer Martin Parr, the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Contribution to Photography prize. Among many of his famously sardonic, witty observations on human behaviour on show is a black and white series from the early 1980s called ‘Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland’. Unsurprisingly, the images show exactly that. Why so many Morrises? Why abandoned in this way? And why in the west of Ireland?
In an accompanying essay, Val Williams sums him up well. “Scratch the surface of Martin Parr and you can still find a trainspotter,” she writes, “a milk bottle collector, an accumulator, someone who operates on an obscure wavelength, pursuing a goal that, in the grand scheme of things, might seem to be a little obtuse…his quest is for sameness, the predictability of human behaviour, and the sheer comedy of it all.”
The show is currently at London’s Somerset House but only until May 7 when it starts a world tour. The awards themselves are open to professional and non-professional alike and there is no entry fee. The World Photography Organisation had to assess more than 227,000 entries from 183 countries for the 2017 awards and the pace is relentless as entries for next year will be accepted again from June 1.