Announcing the Winners & Finalists!

In this age of selfies and endless streams of instant images shared on the internet, an international jury of eight photography experts reviewed thousands of submissions from around the world to select 44 fresh, unique and diverse approaches to represent the possibilities of 21st century portraiture. Many of the featured portraits stand apart from the usual “likable” pictures we see in mainstream and social media; instead, they require a bit more time and contemplation to appreciate the richness that they hold.

This award-winning work covers a wide range of territory—from portraits that explore challenging social issues, to alternative processes that cleverly add layers of meaning and historical reference, to conceptual work that seems hyperreal or dream-like. Some portraits delve into the challenges of memories that fade and change over time, while others question personal identity when viewed as part of a religious or cultural group.

The jurors also chose personal favorites, which are presented here with commentary. All of the selected work—whether nuanced series or penetrating single images—demonstrate that portraits are unique in their power to captivate our gaze and show us something new and unexpected about each other and the world we live in.

Series Winners

1st Place Series
Cristina De Middel
Mexico
Gentlemen's Club
2nd Place Series
Coco Amardeil
France
Come Hell or High Water
3rd Place Series
Harris Mizrahi
United States
Inside Out

These Awards succeeded in bringing together a diverse range of photographers – a rare chance to discover such an inspiring array of photographic approaches all in one place.

Fiona Rogers, Magnum Photos

Single Image Winners

1st Place Single Image
Chris de Bode
Netherlands
Zacheria and Clara
2nd Place Single Image
Owen Harvey
United Kingdom
Young Skinhead Girl, London
3rd Place Single Image
Kensington Leverne
United Kingdom
Myles

Jurors’ Picks

Each of the eight jury members selected one photographer to be awarded special distinction and a cash grant. Here are the jurors’ special selections, with a brief quote from each juror explaining what they especially appreciate about these photographers and their work.

Vasantha Yogananthan
France
Selected by Fiona Rogers
Global Business Development Manager Magnum Photos
Fiona Rogers
Global Business Development Manager Magnum Photos
London, UK

I was really drawn to the romantic and classical nature of Vasantha’s submission, and so were many of my fellow judges. While the practice of hand-tinting is not often associated with contemporary photography, it is wonderful to see a resurgence of such craft methods in Vasantha’s project. The result is a skillful blurring of fact and fiction, which heightens the mythical element of his chosen subject matter, both complementing and subverting a cultural artform so closely associated with wealthy India.

Medina Dugger
Nigeria
Selected by Whitney Johnson
Deputy Director of Photography National Geographic
Whitney Johnson
Deputy Director of Photography National Geographic
Washington, D.C., USA

I was struck by this work immediately, and even more so when I realized the reference to the late Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, who photographed over a thousand different African women’s hair styles.

Edu Simões
Brazil
Selected by Jim Casper
Editor-in-Chief LensCulture
Jim Casper
Editor-in-Chief LensCulture
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

These environmental portraits, made in and around the violent favelas of Brazil, are direct and raw. They help to bring numbing statistics into focus as personal realities. The young men are of African descent, which means that they live in particular danger because 59 Afro-Descendents are murdered every day, for little or no reason, in Brazil. The settings of the portraits — cramped, spare, impoverished — convey a lot about their complex, tenuous situations. And the direct gaze of each person seems to demand that we look and see them and their worlds with the same intensity.

Albarrán Cabrera
Spain
Selected by Phillip Prodger
Head of Photographs National Portrait Gallery
Phillip Prodger
Head of Photographs National Portrait Gallery
London, UK

Combining appropriated imagery with pictures of their own making, Albarrán and Cabrera create a fictitious universe of people, places, and events seemingly drawn from memory, but which actually never happened, at least not the way they are shown. In a way, their pictures are non-portraits, with facial features obscured by shadow, and most recognizable elements suppressed. Superficially, they look like family snapshots, but the vivid palette and clever compositions draw us in, inviting us to search for detail that is always just a little beyond sight, the significance of which is uncertain. It’s a wonderful project that raises questions of identity and memory, vision and perception, and the passage of time.

David Wagnières
Switzerland
Selected by Jennifer Pastore
Photography Director The Wall Street Journal Magazine
Jennifer Pastore
Photography Director The Wall Street Journal Magazine
New York, USA

I was attracted to David Wagnières’ series for several reasons: the palpable sense of waiting for something, the rich, saturated color palette and the elegance of composition. Each photograph drew me in and made me want to find out more about what was happening and what was hanging in the air.

Robin de Puy
Netherlands
Selected by Genevieve Fussell
Senior Photo Editor The New Yorker
Genevieve Fussell
Senior Photo Editor The New Yorker
New York, USA

I was immediately struck by Robin’s portrait series and found myself returning to it again and again throughout the jury process. At once timeless and classic yet also modern, her photographs possess a strong, clear and unique vision and hold together beautifully as a body of work. I was pleased to discover her during the judging and will look forward to following her work.

Nelli Palomäki
Finland
Selected by Todd Hido
Artist
Todd Hido
Artist
San Francisco Bay Area, USA

Whenever I serve on juries, I never look at the name of the artist, and often can’t even tell whether they are a male or female photographer. And I much prefer it that way. Truth be told, I’m not one for reading statements or captions unless I’m searching for information; I truly base my decisions on whether or not I like the pictures instinctually, and most often immediately.

It’s continually surprising to me how accurate my method turns out to be. I saw this image by Nelli Palomäki (not knowing it was hers) and immediately, viscerally, knew it was an incredible photograph. The pair of siblings, bathed in the soft shadows of a diffused northern light, create an image that is rich both formally and psychologically. When I found out later it was by Palomaki, it made perfect sense—I had first learned of her work several years before and had become instantly enamored of her masterful use of a certain type of minimalism in portraiture that is usually reserved for daguerreotypes and other 19th-century likenesses. The minimalism and utter simplicity that it takes to isolate an image down to its most basic components—clothing and background—captures something that is curious, surreal, and affectionate.

Ultimately, (and perhaps conversely), this picture has a complexity that one rarely sees in photography today. It reminds me of one of my favorite photographers, Emmett Gowin, and the emotionally charged images he took of his wife Edith and her sisters in Danville, Virginia in 1968. Palomaki’s work reflects a similar feel for her subjects, clear-eyed, but also empathetic and poignant.

Marinka Masséus
Netherlands
Selected by Susan White
Photography Director Vanity Fair Magazine
Susan White
Photography Director Vanity Fair Magazine
New York, USA

By combining social and political commentary with aesthetics in her series, “My Stealthy Freedom II,” Marinka Masséus makes a statement about women’s rights, specifically in relation to the forced wearing of hijabs, chadors and burkas. With her images, Masséus addresses a woman’s right to choose whether to be “seen” or not. Wearing colorful, airy fabrics that seem to resist gravity, the sitters might belie the actual burden of wearing such garb. Instead, what is revealed is a bit of the wearer’s personality. We may not be able to see their faces but we can feel the force of their spirits. The hijab can be a state of mind as well as a state of dress and, for me, these portraits speak to a growing resistance toward repressive control, sartorial or otherwise.

Finalists

Margaret Mitchell
United Kingdom
Mart Boudestein
Netherlands

Student Spotlight

International Jury

Susan White
Photography Director
Vanity Fair Magazine
Phillip Prodger
Head of Photographs
National Portrait Gallery
Jennifer Pastore
Photography Director
The Wall Street Journal Magazine
Whitney Johnson
Deputy Director of Photography
National Geographic

Susan White has been the photography director of Vanity Fair magazine for more than 20 years. Throughout her tenure, she has worked with many of the industry’s leading photographers, covering a wide array of subject matter. During this time, Vanity Fair received numerous nominations and awards in the photography category from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Society of Publication Designers. In 2005, Susan was named “Photo Editor of the Year” at the Lucie Awards.

Phillip Prodger, Ph.D. (Cantab.) is Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, where he oversees acquisitions, research, loan and display of photographs from the 19th century to the present. Prodger has held several curatorial posts including at the Saint Louis Art Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Peabody Essex Museum, where he was founding Curator of Photography. The curator of numerous exhibitions worldwide and the author and editor of fourteen books and catalogues, his writings on art and photography have been translated into nine languages. He is the curator, most recently, of “William Eggleston Portraits”, which made numerous ‘best of’ lists.

Jennifer Pastore is the photography director of WSJ. The Wall Street Journal Magazine. Previously, she has worked as a photo editor for various magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, T: The New York Times Style Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. Jennifer teaches in the BFA photography program of The School of Visual Arts and her work has been recognized by American Photography, ASME, SPD, Graphis, PDN and the Society of Newspaper Design. Jennifer holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Florida.

Whitney C. Johnson is the Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic. Before joining the Society in 2015, she was the Director of Photography at The New Yorker where she oversaw the photographic vision for the magazine in print, on the iPad, and at newyorker.com. Prior to that she worked at the Open Society Foundations.

She is on the board of the W. Eugene Smith Fund, the Photojournalism Advisory Council for the Alexia Foundation, and the Advisory Committee for the Magnum Foundation’s Emergency Fund.

Todd Hido
Artist
San Francisco Bay Area, USA
Fiona Rogers
Global Business Development Manager
Magnum Photos
Genevieve Fussell
Senior Photo Editor
The New Yorker
Jim Casper
Editor-in-Chief
LensCulture

Todd Hido is a San Francisco Bay Area-based artist whose work has been featured in Artforum, The New York Times Magazine, Eyemazing, Wired, Elephant, FOAM, and Vanity Fair. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Getty, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the de Young, the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Pier 24 Photography, as well as in many other public and private collections. He has over a dozen published books; his monograph titled Excerpts from Silver Meadows was released in 2013, along with an innovative b-sides box set designed to function as a companion piece to his award-winning monograph in 2014. Aperture published his mid-career survey in 2016.

Fiona Rogers is the Global Business Development Manager at Magnum Photos International. Fiona is also the founder of Firecracker, a platform supporting female photographers. In 2012, Firecracker launched an annual grant, offered to photographers to complete a long-term documentary photography project. Fiona has a strong interest in emerging photographers and has participated in international platforms such as Recontres D’Arles, Format Festival and the Singapore International Photography Festival. She has participated as a judge for several notable competitions including the Mack First Book Award and the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography.

Genevieve Fussell is a Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker where she commissions and produces a range of photography for the magazine as well as contributing weekly to Photo Booth, The New Yorker’s daily photography blog. Before joining The New Yorker, she worked as the archivist for VII Photo, the international collective of photojournalists based in New York and Paris. She holds a degree in journalism from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo as well as having studied photography at California College of the Arts.

Jim Casper is the editor-in-chief of LensCulture, one of the leading online destinations to discover contemporary photography from around the world. As an active member in the contemporary photography world, Casper organizes annual international photography events, travels around the world to meet with photographers and review their portfolios, curates art exhibitions, writes about photography and culture, lectures, conducts workshops, serves as an international juror and nominator for key awards, and is an advisor to arts and education organizations. He serves on the board of directors at SPE, the Society for Photographic Education, the world’s largest association of photography educators.

Thank You

LensCulture would like to thank every photographer who participated in this competition — your entries, which came from all over the world, have been a true inspiration to view and consider! We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to the members of the jury who worked long and hard reviewing the entries to the competition and ultimately selecting the brilliant work displayed here.

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