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2019 Sony World Photography Awards Review - Somerset House

18th Apr – 06th May 2019

Standard Ticket - £10

Concessions - £8

Under 12s go free


I have always struggled to understand what makes makes some pictures art. I had the pleasure of going to an exhibition at Somerset House, where the winning and shortlisted photographs from the 2019 Sony World Photography Award are displayed. This exhibit showcased how carefully crafted these images are and just how much personal investment is required. Fine photography does more than please the eye, it speaks to our emotions as well.

This year’s Photographer of the Year was Federico Borella, an Italian photojournalist and news photographer who made an appearance to explain his series. The subject of his series Five Degrees is the male suicide that has afflicted the Tamil Nadu farming community, which has encountered a terrible drought. Through this series, Borella denounces the perilous effects climate change has not only on the agricultural landscape but, consequently, on the mental health of the community. His images have a very consistent tone, expressed through the lovely teal and beige colour palette. The reminders of the deceased, the portraits of the grieving and the desolate terrain are very moving as they broadcast issues that deserve more attention in a sensitive way.

©Federico Borella, Italy, Photographer of the Year, Professional competition, Documentary. 2019 Sony World Photography Awards

Another formidable recipient is Nadav Kander, winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Photography. A selection of pieces from his extensive body of work was presented. Like Borella, Kander was there to put the feeling of his images into words. He briefly described how his images serve to capture the same sentiment, landscapes alike portraits, and how the vastness of the world gives insight on what it means to be human. Several rooms were attributed to Kander. One of these rooms was dimly lit and held selections from the Horizons series. This room has a very soothing ambiance, as you can hear the soft music from the video featured in the room next door. Another of the rooms exhibits some very well-known portraits of celebrities such as Barack Obama, Rami Malek, and Boy George to name a few. My favourite of Kander’s were taken from his series entitled God’s Country and Dust. The colours were delicate and soft, yet not muted, which was captivating.

©Nadav Kander, Diver, God's Country, Salt Lake, Utah, USA, 1997. 2019 Sony World Photography Awards

The next category on the tour was Portraits. The winning series was entitled The Edge, by Alvaro Laiz. The movement that was captured in these portraits demonstrates how our identities are not fixed. We are not only ourselves but we are also our ancestors, according to Chukchi culture. The Chukchi tribe has a deep history in North America, having left a genetic footprint in Native American people. This series intertwines art and genetic data analysis to explore the idea of identity, time and migration across the American continent.

The Sport category was far more powerful than I had anticipated. Alessandro Grassani‘s Boxing Against Violence: The Female Boxers of Goma was a series meant to emancipate the women of Goma. Rather than portraying women who have suffered through violence as victims, he portrayed them as heroes. He wanted to find a story, to find the link between boxing and the violence of their society. The women of these boxing clubs regain their strength to fight against a patriarchal world and to survive, while some also dream to become professional boxers.

© Alessandro Grassani, Italy, 1st Place Professional Competition, Sport. 2019 Sony World Photography Awards

The idea of water as a creative source was shared by Stephan Zirwes and Christy Lee Rogers, the winners of the Architecture and Open Photography awards, respectively. Zirwes photographed the public pools in Germany, which are accessible to all due to their low entrance fees. Rogers photographed women swimming in a pool at night. Both of these images convey the obsession that we have with water and the idea that it brings us harmony.

There were many more categories and photographs, each of which deserves to be seen and appreciated. The artistic value of all of these photographs is that they make the audience see things that are not easily seen by everyone. On one hand, many of these images turn ordinary things into something special. On the other hand, many of these images shed light on issues such as climate change, violence against women, migration in America, etc. They uncover the vulnerability of the world, and even so, the beauty of the photographs highlights the severity of these problems.

The exhibit closes on May 6th so I urge you to give it a visit; it is truly worthwhile.

Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor

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