Winners: 2014 Activist Awards
Project info

Two incredible photographers are honored this year for work that illustrates stories the public would otherwise never be privy to. Both use distinct approaches to vividly capture and convey their respective issues with compelling immediacy, and we're pleased to recognize their efforts to shine a light on these previously untold stories and their artistry and skill in doing so.

Professional Category:

An unseen and intentionally hidden subject is made visible in our winning entry in the professional category this year.

Åsa Sjöström's essay from secret Swedish camps offers a fascinating point of discovery into the issue of domestic and honor violence against women and children. Her ongoing project, The Secret Camps, documents life at this secluded refuge for women and children seeking to spend a few days of freedom swimming, exploring nature, and relaxing together without fear.

The images are haunting, delicate and unforgettable, as children in the photographs hide their faces with flowers and fading balloons, or stand dripping on a pier, having just swam in the lake.

"As a photojournalist, I want to create awareness and also to induce a genuine situation between me and the people in my photographs," says Sjöström. "Through a close collaboration, the Women's Rights Organization and the women gave me the full confidence to stay in the camps and to do narrative photographs."

Judges' Statement: Sjöström's visually distinctive approach evocatively captures the transformational time at the camps for women and children who have suffered domestic violence, and in so doing, she brings attention to an issue that affects women and children all over the world. We feel it's extremely important to talk about this subject, and are delighted to honor Sjöström for her imaginative, creative and well-edited series.

The two finalists in the Professional Category are Annalisa Natali Murri for her photo story, The Sky Crashed Down Upon Us, and Sergi Camara for his photo story, The Wall of Europe.

The four honorable mentions in the Professional Category are Michelle Frankfurter for Destino; Mads Nissen for Homophobia in Russia; Sebastiano Tomada for Whoever Saves a Life; and Monika Bulaj for Kosovo. The Thread.

Emerging Category:

While the women and children portrayed in Sjöström's poetic essay find solace in secrecy, the opposite is true of the community at the center of the winning series in the emerging category -- a community which struggles to be heard.

Amirtharaj Stephen's narrative essay captures, from an intimate vantage point, a story unlikely to be covered by the mainstream media: Koodankulam: A Nuclear Plant In My Backyard, documents the uprising of a local community against the Indian and Russian Government on the commissioning of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP), as well as the violence by government forces attempting to clamp down on the protesters.

With striking clarity the images detail action-oriented yet emotional moments, such as villagers reacting to an Indian Coast Guard plane diving towards their assembly, and a distraught woman chased into the sea by police.

"The government did little to allay the fears of the people," explains Stephen. "There was no transparency from the government. They did not even share the basic documents with the people and there was no disaster management plan. There are over half a million people living in a 30kms radius. And all of these things were reflected in the struggle of the Idinthakarai people. That convinced me to stay long, and document the happenings."

Judges' Statement: Having a local photographer documenting such a struggle adds insight. This series speaks to the growing demand for energy in booming economies like India's, and questions who gets left behind in the process while also touching on a broader issue: That of a local citizenry pushing back against corporate and government interests. We found the series compelling in its energy--both raw and elegant, with a strong forcefulness and a distinct voice.

The two finalists in the Emerging Category are Dmitry Markov for his photo story, Gray Brick Road, and Megan E. Doherty for her photo story, Back of the Yards.

The two honorable mentions in the Emerging Category are Ksenia Diodorova for In the Cold and Laura Santopietro for AZADI Freedom.

This year we received 256 submissions from 54 different countries, and awarded $15,000 to a professional and $5,000 to an emerging photographer. The awards were juried by our distinguished panel:

Alice Gabriner, International Photo Editor, TIME magazine
Balazs Gardi, Independent photographer
Neil Harris, Senior Photo Editor, WIRED
Teru Kuwayama, Instagram Community Team
Stephen Mayes, Executive Director, Tim Hetherington Trust