The great portrait photographer Richard Avedon once said, “Faces are the ledgers of our experience.” Perhaps this is why portraits are captivating to so many people—the depth and complexity of a great portrait will always spark curiosity and interest even in people from dramatically different circumstances. Fundamentally, we want to share life’s experiences, and we often gauge ourselves by our view of others.
For our fifth annual Portrait Awards, we reached out to photographers in 14 languages worldwide and gathered an international jury of eight photography experts to discover fresh, exciting, and timeless approaches to the photographic portrait. Now, we’re delighted to present outstanding work by 39 talented photographers from five continents—an inspiring and diverse array of the best contemporary portraiture from around the globe. Read more »
The award-winning work in this gallery showcases the nearly endless range of possibilities contained in the human form. Among the series winners, we find profoundly sensitive black-and-white pictures that connect us with a lonely boy living in a remote desert area; stirring images of courageous teenage girls who escaped Boko Haram in Nigeria and are now telling their stories; classical portraits, shot on 8x10 film, made of complete strangers in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that “embrace the essential.” Other work is conceptual, political, dream-like, staged and produced, or completely down to earth—and everything in between. In the hands of these photographers, the portrait becomes an immensely powerful and malleable frame through which we can engage with the world.
The jurors also chose personal favorites, which are presented here with commentary. We’re sure you will find some inspiration in the selected work—from empathy to awe, these masterful portraits pull us in and remind us what it means to connect with people in all walks of life.
“This year’s Portrait Awards spoke to the myriad ways in which photographers investigate the joys and plights of others. From photographing strangers to picturing loved ones, these artists tackled both political strife and personal conflict with empathy and passion. At a time when people have become increasingly insular, I was repeatedly moved by what I saw.”
Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, LACMA
“To be part of a jury is always a great opportunity to see new works and meet emerging and accomplished photographers. The LensCulture Portrait Awards were an open window to the different approaches of contemporary portrait production.”
Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Photo Editor, Internazionale
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.
After discovering the discarded photographic archive of the Colombian El Espacio newspaper, Andrés Orjuela made the decision to salvage the photographs and utilize them within his own practice. The images, mostly reportage, depict criminal trials, contraband, violent arrests, and candid portraits. In Orjuela’s hand, the images have been decontextualized, re-sequenced and colorized, using Marshall’s pigment. Some of the images are reminiscent of prayer cards, with the careful painting over the portraits, animating anonymous figures. The original documentation of factual events is subverted and inflected with a singular narrative that is blended with fiction. Orjuela’s investigation into this archive is transformative and compelling.
“For they were young, and the Thames was old/And this is the tale that River told.”
With “Old Father Thames,” the river is participant and witness to hope, loss, history, progress, life, and death on its banks. Julia Fullerton-Batten creates a visual history depicting random and real events with the Thames as her central character as in the image memorializing John Everett Millais’ famous work, “Ophelia.” Julia photographed the recreation in the exact spot Millais worked along a Thames tributary.
It’s the kind of photo you discover slowly, little by little. First, you notice the patterns of the dress and the sheet, and the homogeneity of the color palette: as soon as you think that everything is in the shades of brown, the pale blue of the necklace attracts your eyes, and it becomes the center of the photo. It drives you towards the eyes of the girl laying on the bed. She looks calm, deep in thought, a little bit dreamy. Maybe there’s a hint of a smile, but also a kind of sadness in her eyes. And then the question arises: who is she?
Her name is Paschalia, she’s 16. She’s in the Tanzanian shelter Jipe Moyo, in Tarime. She’s in a shelter because when her mother died, her father wanted her to get married and to get circumcised. Paschalia escaped and was saved from genital mutilation and child marriage.
Having read the text, you look at the photo again and it’s like you are looking at a new image. Everything makes sense: you imagine the past and the present of Paschalia, her possible future, her loneliness and her hopes. The photographer Meeri Koutaniemi, who is a woman and has worked a lot on the subject of female genital mutilation, had the ability to connect with the girl, making her feel safe enough to share her story with us.
Solemn eyes gaze out through the gauzy fabric stretched across the woman’s face in Labkhand Olfatmanesh’s portrait “Cover.” The wind has pulled the scarf tight across her features then released it into a dramatic, triangular composition of layered diaphanous cloth around her head. The material’s physical texture is accentuated by the reticulated patterning making it almost tangible. The title, “Cover,” is the English translation of hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women, suggesting a meditation on custom and female identity.
The amazing work of Massimo Giovannini, titled “Henko, Variable Light,” proposes a surprising approach on the question of gender. Using a very simple apparatus where the final image is obtained straight from the camera through variations in make-up and lighting, the photographer brings to light a picture of androgyny. He reveals a hazy border that exists between the feminine and the masculine, and shows us how photography is a tool for building realities, capable of transforming—without any post-production—our perception of a face. Starting from a subject in society that relates to people’s appearance, Giovannini offers us a beautiful way to question the presumed veracity of the photographic image.
The thing that is magical about photography is that it can produce an image that incites emotion based on the subject matter alone, opening a narrative to a greater storyline. De Bettio is a masterful storyteller and he is sure-footed as he walks the line between whimsicality and reality. His photograph effortlessly maneuvers between documentary and fine art and left a lasting impression.
This is a very, very tough subject. Anya has handled it with great sensitivity. It’s very hard to make work like this and not feel exploitative. I like her use of colour as it’s believable and has a light touch. This and the heavy tonality bring these pictures into seriality. As they progress, they constitute a very solid body of work that coheres as a single piece.
In these portraits from northwestern Ecuador, we see young child laborers literally suspended in their environments—among the tangled roots of mangrove trees, knee-deep in mud, and sometimes submerged up to their necks in swampy water. These kids (some as young as 9 or 10 years old) must earn a daily wage by gathering small shellfish by hand, one at a time, from the muddy waters surrounding mangrove trees. Despite the fact that these shells are considered culinary delicacies, the work pays only 8 cents per shell. If they work long and hard, a child can find 50 to 100 shells on a good day.
The portraits feel honest and full of respect. The photographer has taken the time to capture faces and poses of these children that reveal a wide gamut of emotions, from stoic resignation and dignity to moments that flicker between exhaustion and despair. We can imagine what their lives must be like, and that reflects the power of photographic portraiture at its best.
“It was an honor and a privilege to review such high caliber and thoughtful photographic submissions. I was impressed with the international reach the competition drew upon as well as the breadth of fine art and documentary work presented.”
Director, Von Lintel Gallery
Rebecca Morse is Curator in the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where she recently organized the exhibitions Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld and Larry Sultan: Here and Home. Previous exhibitions include Amanda Ross Ho: Teeny Tiny Woman, Cai Guo-Qiang: Ladder to the Sky, Rodarte: States of Matter, The Artist’s Museum, and Florian Maier-Aichen organized for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) where she was Associate Curator through 2013. She has written about the evolving relationship between photography and sculpture, contemporary photography in Los Angeles, and photography’s changing role in contemporary art beginning in the 1980s.
Sacha Lecca is the Deputy Photo Editor at Rolling Stone magazine, as well as a photographer with over 20 years experience in magazine publishing. Lecca was a photo researcher and then photo editor at Newsweek as well as a photo editor for multiple titles at CMP Media before taking his current position at Rolling Stone.
Siobhán Bohnacker is a Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker, where she commissions original photography for the magazine, and curates on photography for newyorker.com. Prior to joining The New Yorker, she worked as a Photo Editor at The New York Times Magazine and from 2009-2012, worked with NGOs and non-profits, as well as advertising clients, on the production of high-profile portfolios and campaigns. She has served as on-set producer on over 200 photo shoots, most notably, at The White House, for “Going The Distance”, David Remnick’s profile of President Barack Obama (2014), and “Portraits Of Power”, an ASME-winning portfolio of 56 heads of state, photographed at the United Nations and published in The New Yorker in 2009. A Fellow of The Royal Society of The Arts, Siobhán has been a guest lecturer at such institutions as Yale, The Cooper Union, the School of Visual Arts, and has served on the jury for numerous international photo contests.
Christophe Laloi graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la photographie d’Arles, France, in 1996 with a master’s degree in the history of art. After graduation, he founded the Voies Off Festival at the Rencontres d’Arles. He continues to act as artistic director and director of programming at the festival, where he selects more than 60 artists each year from five continents. He organizes portfolio reviews, as well as a variety of exhibitions, and he has been a lecturer at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie d’Arles for ten years. He has also been a reviewer for many festivals in France, Denmark, Turkey, Spain, and England. In 2007, Mr. Laloi opened the Galerie Voies Off, an exhibition space that presents emerging and established photographers throughout the year.
Elena Boille is deputy editor-in-chief and photo editor of the magazine Internazionale. Boille graduated with a degree in history of art and she co-founded, in 1993, the Italian news magazine Internazionale. She has judged many photo competitions and participated in portfolio reviews; Boille also teaches photo editing workshops and taught a photo editing class at Luiss Business School in Rome.
Nadav Kander is a London-based photographer, artist and director, known for his portraiture and landscapes. His work is included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and other galleries and museums. Kander’s work has been published on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, TIME and many other publications. In 2009, he was honored to publish the largest portfolio of work by the same photographer The New York Times Magazine has ever showcased in one single issue.
Kander published his first monograph, Beauty’s Nothing (Arena Editions) in 2001. He followed up the book with numerous catalogues of his work that accompanied exhibitions at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York; Shine Gallery, London; and Flowers Gallery, London. In October 2009 Kander was announced as the winner of the prestigious Prix Pictet Earth, 2009 for his “Yangtze—The Long River” series. He was chosen from a shortlist of 12 nominees that included Ed Kashi, Andreas Gursky and Naoya Hatakeyama. The award was presented by Kofi Annan, Honorary President of the Prix Pictet.
Kaycee Olsen is a gallery director and appraiser based in Los Angeles, California. Currently she is the director of Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles. Olsen has more than a decade of experience in the art business, having served as the owner of Kaycee Olsen Gallery, as well as working at Christie’s, and as a modern and contemporary art dealer. Olsen’s academic training includes a BA in Art History from the University of Southern California and a BA in Liberal Arts, Art History study abroad at the London Metropolitan University as well as MA studies in Art History. Her affiliations include Art Table, and the Photographic Arts Council, with past affiliations at LACMA, the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, and Words Without Pictures.
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.
All of the selected photographers from the 2018 Portrait Awards will be exhibited at Somerset House during Photo London, London’s premier photography fair. Hope to see you there!
Somerset House, London
May 17-20, 2018
In addition, all selected photographers will be exhibited in the heart of Arles, France this July. Hosted by our partner Voies Off, our digital exhibition will run throughout the busy opening week of the world-renowned Les Rencontres d’Arles.
Voies Off Festival, Arles, France
July 2-8, 2018
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.