Join us in congratulating these 39 talented photographers as the winners, jurors’ picks and finalists of the LensCulture Black & White Awards. We searched the globe for outstanding work that plays with the dynamic relationship between light, dark and all the tones in between. These artists possess distinct authorship in their work and creative vision, along with a keen ability to harness the emotive power of monochrome.
It’s quite exciting to discover so many talented artists using the language of black-and-white photography to cover so many diverse genres and topics. In this year’s mix you will find light-hearted multimedia storytelling, street photography made with smartphones, landscapes composed of medium-format sheets of film, playful self-portraits, conceptual series, fantasy, reportage, images of conflict and graceful still life compositions.
Take a moment to look through the dynamic selection of series and single images recognized in these awards. The photographers come from 23 countries on five continents, and their work reflects the rich creativity amongst the global LensCulture community. We hope you will discover work that inspires and delights you.
Through this competition, our aim is to uncover photographers from diverse backgrounds and experience levels, and connect them with global audiences and career-changing opportunities. We’re thrilled to exhibit the winners in New York City in April 2020, coinciding with the inaugural Paris Photo New York, an international fair dedicated to photography!
Agnieszka Sosnowska is a Polish-born USA-raised artist who has been living on a farm outside of Egilsstaðir, Iceland for over 10 years. Using a 4x5 view camera Agnieszka takes us on an evocative journey into the world that she inhabits, as a woman, farmer, artist and ultimately fragile human figure in an immensely ancient enduring landscape. The work forms part of an ongoing series that she has been working on for over 25 years, focussed on self-portraits. Through the work we see her developing, interacting and transforming in the sublime raw nature that she inhabits, alongside the attempt to integrate and come to terms with the almost supernatural power of the environment around her. The work becomes a metaphor for strength, endurance, connectivity and ultimately the impossibility to assimilate with the wilderness of Iceland’s geography, harsh weather and long winters. Being an artist, and isolated in the land, is a place both psychological and physical that is simultaneously alluring and treacherous, which has led to a stunning series that I’m sure will only continue to intensify in the years to come.
There is a disquieting stillness to this photograph. At first glance it is difficult to register the number of people in the frame, but as you look closer you can see that there are 15 people — men, women, and children — under the cloud of billowing smoke. By eliminating visual cues that would signal a specific location or context, the photograph resonates as a metaphor for the trapped and uncertain existence of countless refugees.
A snippet of dialogue currently appears on Bebe Blanco Agterberg’s web page:
User: Do you believe in the truth?
BB: Depends how it is structured
User: So, what do you do?
BB: Testing these structures that we believe are the essence of truth
This is an apt prompt for the enigmatic images in her series Actors Rule the World. The work is both theatrical and inscrutable. Whether starkly lit or smokily sketched, each image seems to function as a clue — but to what? A mysterious number four is found in a besmudged, mirrored cabinet; an arm dangles from the window of a car; a Soviet-era television set keeps company with a vase of daisies. There is some conspiracy afoot, and Agterberg pushes the inherently nostalgic and evidentiary qualities of black-and-white photography to the maximum, drawing us into a beguilingly implied narrative of spy craft and noir drama.
Chaddy Dean Smith offers a phenomenological approach to photography: There is not one “correct” or “true” view of the world, but rather an infinite number. By taking different perspectives and combining these into a panoramic triptych, the photographer challenges our perception. Look closely! I was impressed by this work – a soberly analytical, and at the same time elegant and graceful, representation of the landscape with the specific means of photography.
A man bounds up a derelict staircase in a starkly lit hallway and everything is slightly askew. He’s using all of his bare limbs in the effort — hands, dirty feet, elbows. The walls are beat too, unpainted, scarred, pitted, punctuated by loops of wire that come out of one hole and disappear into another, seemingly at random. A camera with a flash has caught the action mid-stride, casting dramatic dark shadows into the mix.
We come to believe that this kind of nocturnal scurrying is part of the usual activities of the eccentric characters who live in Palacio Salvo — an active urban mixed-use building in Montevideo Uruguay that was once the tallest building in Latin America. With each photograph, we meet a new character or characters — a lady with lots of make-up and a fur coat, a couple embracing in a shower, a scruffy dog on a chain, someone clutching a pet bird, a stylish gentleman who looks like he just stepped out of the 1920s when the building was originally opened.
Ignacio Iturrioz has set the stage for us, and hints at some crazy stories to be told. He’s using a familiar high-contrast black-and-white style with flair, luring us into a dreamlike world where it seems that time has stopped and life goes on, free of the typical restraints of 21st century life.
This image is unusual in conveying a moment of personal transport without access to the subject’s eyes, which are so often the vehicle for communicating emotion in a portrait. The dynamic composition takes advantage of simple and time-honored formal devices — light, depth of field, and asymmetry — to create a sense of momentary intensity. At the same time, the traditional nature of the image removes it from a specific time and place.
The precise position of the black raven over the luminescent sculpted skin of a stallion, could not possibly have been planned. Such serendipitous moments set photography apart from other visual art forms. Photography embraces accidents like no other, and some of the greatest photographs are ones where the photographer has captured such fleeting moments, preserving the magic of a fluid composition. The range of greys from the nuanced highlights to the silhouette of the outstretched wings dance across the complete tonal spectrum that black and white photography excels and rejoices in. A print of this image would be so wonderful to touch.
This photo is just the perfect example of what an effective photo should be. When you look at it you can imagine a lot of different stories, it does not need any explanation. Even the little smile on the boy’s face can have many explanations. Is he happy because he dominates the machine? Because he is part of the machine? Because he is resting and the rice harvest is finished? Bravo to Yann and his very good sense of observation!
Lesley A. Martin is creative director at the Aperture Foundation and publisher of The PhotoBook Review. She has edited numerous photobooks, including Takashi Homma’s Tokyo (2008), Rinko Kawauchi’s Illuminance (2011), LaToya Ruby Frazier’s The Notion of Family (2013), and recent books by Richard Misrach and Gregory Crewdson. Lesley cofounded the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards and has curated exhibitions for Aperture. Her writing on photography has been published in Aperture, FOAM, Ojo de Pez, and Lay Flat among other publications and she currently teaches a graduate course on the photobook at the Yale University School of Art.
Jessica Dimson is the deputy director of photography at The New York Times Magazine where she assigns, produces, and edits photography for covers, special issues, photo essays and features. Prior to that, she worked as a photo editor on the national and metro desks at the New York Times and was the photo editor for the 2016 presidential campaign. Previously, Jessica was a photo editor at Vanity Fair and Departures magazine. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Publication Designers, American Photography, The Art Directors Club, and Pictures of the Year International.
Shahidul Alam (born 1955) is a Dhaka-based photographer and writer. He is the founder of the Drik Picture Library (1989), the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute (1998), and Chobi Mela International Photography Festival (2000). He has published Nature’s Fury (2007), Portraits of Commitment (2009), My Journey as Witness (2011), and Best Years of My Life (2016). He has received many awards, amongst them the Shilpakala Padak from the President of Bangladesh (2014), the Humanitarian Award from the Lucie Awards (2018), and the Infinity Award (2019). He was imprisoned by the government of Bangladesh for 107 days in 2018. He is one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year 2018. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and a Visiting Professor of Sunderland University. His book “My journey as a witness” has been described by John Morris as “The most important book written by a photographer.”
Louise Clements is Artistic Director of QUAD, a centre for contemporary art and film, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director/Curator of FORMAT International Photography Festival, one of the UK’s leading contemporary photography and media festivals. As a curator, she has initiated and curated many commissions, publications, mass participation art, film and photography programmes and exhibitions around the world. Louise regularly writes about photography for catalogues and magazines in both print and online media including:Next Level, South Korean Photography, co-editor of Hijacked III UK/AUS, PHOTOCINEMA, and she is Editor at Large for www.1000wordsmag.com. She is an international photography juror and nominator, and a regular portfolio reviewer at festivals and galleries throughout Europe, America and Asia.
Andreas Müller-Pohle is a Berlin-based media artist and the founder and publisher of European Photography, an independent art magazine for international contemporary photography that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. He has published the major works by media philosopher Vilém Flusser, available in the ten-volume Edition Flusser, including the seminal Philosophy of Photography, and has been a visiting professor and lecturer at institutions in Europe, North and South America, and Asia. Andreas has worked with photography and media projects since the late 1970s, the most current being Hong Kong Waters and Studies on Traffic. His works have been widely published and exhibited and are included in numerous private and museum collections worldwide. In 2001, he was awarded the European Photography Prize from the Reind M. De Vries Foundation, a one-time distinction for his achievements in photography.
Barbara Tannenbaum has organized more than 100 exhibitions during her three-decade career as a curator and academic. From 1985 through 2011, she was chief curator at the Akron Art Museum, where she grew the photography collection from 500 to 2,500 works. She has authored numerous publications including books on TR Ericsson, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and print-on-demand photobooks, and lectured throughout the U.S. and in Canada, Brazil, and China. As Curator of Photography at The Cleveland Museum of Art, Barbara’s shows in progress include Ilse Bing: Queen of the Leica; Signal Noise: Aaron Rothman; and Bruce Davidson.
Catherine and André Hug founded their gallery in Paris in 2000. Located in the heart of the artistic and historic Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood, the Catherine and André Hug Gallery offers a photographic program that compares historical series to the most contemporary expressions. They have presented the work Susan Meiselas, Raymond Depardon, Philippe Chancel, Kourtney Roy, Joni Sternbach, Reine Paradis, Mona Kuhn, and many more. Catherine has a degree in communications and works as a sales director for 15 years prior to opening the gallery with her husband.
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.
Congratulations to all 39 photographers! And our thanks go to everyone who entered the competition. We are inspired by the work you do and we are always delighted to discover how image-makers around the globe are working with photography in new ways.
We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!