The series titled Eshgh, Tars, Azadi (Love, Fear, Freedom) by Ashkan Shabani is a self portrait, a lover’s portrait, and a community portrait. It is a love story, a story of resistance, of existence, a life manifest in spite of all. Powerfully told, it is a necessary story where the author does not shy away from the pain and the violence the story forces us into, but manages to narrate it with grace, respect and strength. This submission led to an important conversation amongst the jury members, over what do we actually talk about when we talk about portraiture in narrative works, and how important it is for bodies of work to be pushing the categories in which they supposedly fall. Eshgh, Tars, Azadi is one of them, and it is a pleasure for me to highlight it.
This intense series Outside Room 8 (a collaboration between Geert Broertjes and Lotte Bronsgeest) not only visually encompasses the shit that Geert went through with chemo, but they put the actual analog film, negatives and prints through the same treatment. I am drawn to the manipulation of any medium, and this was the greatest use of such altering techniques. You can almost feel & smell the burning and the radiation exposure of each frame, which I hope was the intention of Broertjes and Bronsgeest.
Loek Buter’s moving and evocative portrait of former German circus artist Maxy Niedermeyer and her big old lovable Bulgarian brown bear Natascha, reflects on ideas of non-human-centered exceptionalism, the shifting tides of our relationship to nature and other species, nostalgia, care and compassion, alongside the waning of the Victorian spectacle of the circus.
Rendered in saturated color, Buter’s visual narrative spans close-up portraits of Maxy decked out in her performance regalia reliving a not-too-distant past, surreal shots of her out strolling the lowlands of The Netherlands with Natascha on a leash, straight documentary images of Maxy tenderly grooming this giant of nature interspersed with prosaic images of the food Natascha consumed, and her final resting pace and the cramped quarters Niedermeyer occupies in her bid to remain close to this animal with whom she had a life-long relationship of unconditional love. Buter’s arresting portrait of this woman, whose identity is inextricably linked to her love for Natascha, are at once moving, humorous and full of empathy.
Lee Friedlander spoke about how “generous” the medium of photography can be — it can capture a multitude of simultaneous details in a single image. That sense of abundance is what I experience when I look at Matt Davis’ portrait of four school kids standing in front of a row of houses in their U.K. neighborhood. The girl is front and center, posing for the camera, while three boys off the to side seem oblivious to the camera, engaged in their own little drama. I’m charmed by the array of school uniforms and haircuts; the details from the house exteriors, front yards and curbside; the expressions on all of the faces. It’s an in-between wide-angle moment — part posed, part candid, perfectly captured.
Teddy’s work is about identity and vulnerability, and this particular series explores the bonds that unite a small group of cosplayers from South West England. Their constructed identity — their dive into fantasy and role play — raises questions about the pressures and requirements of society for young people today, to be something other than we are. Using visual codes of Japanese culture & fashion, the group creates playful, colorful characters and caricatures of themselves. I particularly enjoy the cropping and mix of color and black-and-white and the classic nostalgic backdrop, which is again now so relevant amongst vanguard fashion photographers today.
Teddy’s portraiture work is stunning, calming, and always with an air of confidence that appeals deeply to me. It is reminiscent of a level of personal connection that you might find in the work of Peter Hujar, for instance.
With the many strong submissions this year, choosing favorites is never easy. However, Ursula’s work in Multiples set itself apart from the rest. This was achieved through a double exposure technique that allowed for incredible depth to her work. The longer you look, the more her images come to life, creating worlds within themselves.
The unshakeable beauty in Luana Șeu’s portrait is wonderfully nestled in the details: from the expression in the father’s face as he’s lost in thought and hope shimmers from his eyes, to the tender touch in the daughter’s fingertips. Luana creates an intimate and moving image that speaks to the depth and softness of paternal love. Additionally, I found myself connecting to the work as well as an immigrant and an adult daughter of immigrant parents. This portrait is as tender as it is powerful.
I’m surprised by how much I like and find joy in the familiarity that Sophia Spring’s photographs convey: they are exquisitely composed formal portraits of people enjoying an afternoon in one of London’s parks. Her illusory evocation of countryside taps into a deep post-pandemic need for retreat, and I love how the people portrayed — almost exactly in the middle of the frame and engaging with the viewer — hold themselves. Their self-possessed body language adds a degree of presence and solidity to the sitters and belies the otherwise melancholy — perhaps even nostalgic — feel of the images.
Whitney Matewe is photo editor at TIME. She primarily works on portraiture and feature commissions as well as larger packages such as TIME100, Next Generation Leaders and Kid of The Year. Prior to joining the photo department at TIME, Whitney was a photo editor at National Geographic, The New Yorker, The Intercept and Condé Nast brands like Teen Vogue and GQ. She has served as juror on multiple awards and reviews.
A chance encounter brought Lucy to work as an assistant photo editor for a newly minted Italian newsweekly called Liberal. After two formative years as junior assistant photo editor, Lucy went to New York to pursue a career as photo editor, critic and lecturer. She has worked for Business Week, The New York Times, l'Espresso, The New York Times magazine, Courrier International, The International Herald Tribune as well as photography agencies such as Sipa Press, Magnum Photos and briefly, the AFP. In 2011 Lucy joined M, the weekend magazine of Le Monde, as the Director of Photography where she remains today.
Rebecca McClelland is Executive Producer & head of department for Art Production within Saatchi & Saatchi, managing a team of creative producers & image searchers. Rebecca is responsible for leading & crafting visual outputs of several of the world’s leading creative companies like Airbnb, Sunday Times magazine, BBH, Wallpaper*. As an award-winning visual story teller, with 17 years experience in advertising, luxury & long-form current affairs, Rebecca is renowned for helping clients develop a dynamic visual language.
Josh Raab is Head of Instagram & TikTok at National Geographic. Previously, Josh worked at TIME as a Senior Photo and Multimedia Editor. He has also been an adjunct professor at the International Center of Photography. Josh started out as a photographer covering the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy, then transitioned into editing by founding Jay Peg’s Photo Pub., an online and print publication for emerging photographers. He still shoots whenever he has a free moment, but spends most of his time biking and skiing.
Alona Pardo has been a Curator at Barbican Art Gallery in London for nearly 15 years. With a focus on photography and film, she has curated a number of exhibitions and publications including most recently Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020); Trevor Paglen: From Apple to Anomaly (2019); Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing (2018); Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds (2018); Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (2018); Richard Mosse: Incoming (2017) and Strange and Familiar: Britain as seen by International Photographers (with Martin Parr; 2016). She has a particular interest in work that exists in the intersection between social activism, aesthetics and identity.
Elisa Medde edits, curates and writes about photography. With a background in Art History, Iconology and Photographic Studies, her research reflects on the relationship between image, communication and power structures. She has been nominator for the Prix Elysée, The Leica Oskar Barnack Award and MAST Foundation for Photography Grant, amongst others. Elisa has chaired numerous juries and written for Foam Magazine, Something We Africans Got, Vogue Italia / L'Uomo Vogue, YET Magazine and other publications. Elisa is Editor-in-Chief of Foam Magazine, Amsterdam.
Anna Alexander is Director of Photography at WIRED in San Francisco. She’s been producing photo shoots and commissioning WIRED photographers for approximately twenty years. She took a hiatus from WIRED as the Photo Director at Dwell from 2011-2013. Anna has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Arizona.
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.