The Sony World Photography Awards: Professional category winners and finalists 2020
José de Rocco: As a graphic designer, I’m drawn to bold colours and shapes. Formalism I is the result of three years walking the streets and searching for beauty in places that most people pass by. I tend to take a record shot when I spot something interesting, and then return repeatedly until I get what I need. Form is the main theme for this series, but colour is really important too. Most of the pictures were taken in Argentina, except one that was made in Uruguay.
Sandra Herber: Winters in Manitoba, Canada, are long and often bitterly cold. When the temperature drops, and thick ice forms, lakes and rivers in the province play host to some amazing folk architecture in the form of ice fishing huts. These huts, shacks or permies (as they are called in Manitoba) must be transportable, protect their occupants from the elements and allow access to the ice below for fishing. Once these requirements have been met, the owners are free to express their personalities in the shape, structure and decoration of their huts – they are large or small, decorated or plain, luxurious or utilitarian and everything in between. I captured these images on Lake Winnipeg in December 2019. My hope for this series, which is a continuation of work I started in 2018, is to showcase the quirky charm of these huts by presenting a select few in a typology. The typology – showing the huts framed in the same, minimalist style and in the same lighting – allows the viewer to notice similarities in function and uniqueness in form, as well as to display these utilitarian structures as beautiful works of art.
Jonathan Walland: For me, minimalism is a way of enabling clarity. I approach modern architecture in a way that eliminates distraction, keeping the viewer focused on the purest elements of photography: form, light, texture and the way that these components amalgamate. This body of work required rigid consistency in order to document the structural forms of each building and demonstrate the different and unique way in which light interacts with each structure.
Dione Roach: Kill Me With an Overdose of Tenderness is the result of several years collecting snapshots and screenshots from online posts, chats, Skype and WhatsApp calls. It’s a critical comment on image production and consumption today, as well as a visual exploration of gender, sexuality and technology. Crucially, the work looks at the way relationships and intimacy are lived and expressed through the internet. I was particularly concerned with the idea of self-representation: in an age where most of us have the ability to share images in an instant the Self becomes something that is performed online. This work seeks to open a discourse about how we use photography in an age of smartphones and self-publication.
Luke Watson: Witness Objects features a series of items involved in conflicts ranging from the First World War to the Siege of Sarajevo, converted into pinhole cameras. The pieces range from helmets to empty food cans, each one belonging to an extensive collection held at the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These objects are witnesses to events associated with war, each one designed to perform, protect or survive violent acts. They are symbols, artifacts and evidence. Their temporary modification into pinhole cameras has given them an unexpected new function, transitioning them from passive objects into potentially active tools. The work produced with these cameras has a tentative, yet symbolic, connection to the object itself. It references the cyclical nature of conflict, the blurring of fact and fiction and the stories that go undocumented.
Hugh Kinsella Cunningham: This project aims to capture the invisible wounds of a viral outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu, an active conflict zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hand-printed images were stained in the darkroom, signifying the unseen virus and trauma sweeping across the region and into the lives of communities. With the death toll climbing above 2,000, and a high mortality rate for those infected, communities already traumatised by years of neglect and war became increasingly vulnerable. Rumour, suspicions and violence were rife, with attacks on health workers, as well as organised resistance from Mai-Mai and the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces).
Hashem Shakeri: The current US sanctions against Iran, and the subsequent fall in the value of the rial (Iranian currency), are causing house prices in the country to skyrocket. As a result, many Tehraners have been forced to leave the capital and move to satellite towns where accommodation is more affordable. The Mehr Housing Project, initiated in 2007, was the largest state-funded housing project in the history of Iran. What followed was rapid growth in urban population and the construction of new towns. However, measures to ensure healthy living conditions for the inhabitants of these new towns was insufficient. Parand, Pardis and Hashtgerd, three newly-constructed towns on the margins of Tehran, suffered critical shortcomings. These are huge islands of soaring skyscrapers and indiscriminately developed apartments filled with crowds of people and cars. They begin, but seem to have no end. People from all over Iran are migrating to these new towns, which are becoming notorious for social pathologies like high rates of suicide among pupils and drug abuse. The residents of Parand talk about how the town’s population has doubled over the past six months, reaching 200,000. Yet the town can hardly provide educational, social and health care services for 10,000. Sleep-deprived newcomers leave early in the morning to reach their workplaces in the capital, often commuting for two to three hours a day.
The relentless repetition of this cycle leads to alienation and frustration. To add to this, levels of unemployment are escalating. Here is the land of those cast out of their heaven: the metropolitan Tehran.
And they all share the bitterness of the fall.
Maria Kokunova: It has been four years since I voluntarily isolated myself in a cosy cave of maternity, living in a country house in Leningrad Oblast. I deliberately restrict social contact and limit media consumption – my whole life is bound up in my home, children and art practice. Against all expectations, however, my life is far from calm and quiet. The notion of the cave has become, for me, the quintessence of what a personal experience is made up of. It has been linked to the Anima and the cult of the earth mother, the symbol of fertile soil that both gives life and takes it away. Francis Bacon, developing the idea of Plato, stated that the “Idols of the Cave” arise from education and custom – in short, the past of each individual determines how they perceive things. For me, isolation in my own cave triggered a childhood trauma that had not been resolved emotionally – a stress disorder triggered by a series of four deaths and a suicide in the family over a very short period of time. In this project, I am constructing my own personal cave by combining photographs I have made in my parent’s house with pictures of the place I am living in now. I pair these images with the experience of a physical presence in Sablinskiye Caves, near my home. In a cave your senses are deprived, encouraging hallucinations. Under similar conditions, my memory produces its own illusions. My work explores the idea that motherhood, and the awakening of primitive instincts such as unconditional love, aggression and fear of death, make life extremely meaningful. Despite its challenges, ‘in-cave’ living boosts creativity: it becomes a personal myth, provides a plot for the project and initiates reflective processes.
Youqiong Zhang: In recent years, Chinese enterprises have moved into Africa, leading to fresh momentum in the development of the local economy. Africa is an important node in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to research, there are now more than 10,000 Chinese companies on the African continent. Chinese-funded enterprises build factories, bring advanced machinery and equipment, introduce new manufacturing technology and management systems and promote the transformation and upgrading of the local economic structure. In turn, the rich local
natural and human resources support the development of the company. Ethiopian Oriental Industrial Park is China’s first national-level overseas economic and trade cooperation zone – at present, more than 80 Chinese-funded enterprises gather here. The industry involves shoemaking, automobile assembly, chemical manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, and has provided tens of thousands of jobs.
Didier Bizet: Having first appeared in the United States in the 1990s, reborn is a hyper realistic doll that resembles a newborn baby. Reborn artists go to great lengths to ensure that their creations are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Many reborns have birthmarks, veins, hair, visible skin pores, and even saliva. Markets for these dolls range from reborn artists and collectors to hospitals and adoptive mothers and fathers. The realism of a reborn is such that some medical centres use them to ease the suffering of clients with Alzheimer’s disease. What motivates a woman, or a couple, to “adopt” a reborn – the word “buy” is frowned upon in these circles – varies. For some, there is the attraction of caring for a baby that shares their physical features, as well as the joy of dressing it, taking it out in a pram, or even decorating a room for the new arrival. For others, a reborn is an antidote to loneliness, particularly in an age dominated by online communication. Reborns suffer from a bad reputation, with some suggesting they look like dead babies. For many, however, these dolls are sources of hope, wellbeing, and comfort. They may be fake babies, but the happiness, love and sense of sharing they provide is very real.
Chung Ming Ko: Protests in Hong Kong show no signs of abating after months of unrest. What began as an objection to the extradition bill has evolved into a wider protest regarding the future of the city. Reports suggest that since the demonstrations began cases of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have risen among the population. Author Milan Kundera said: “The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Scars and bruises may fade, but we must remember what caused them.
Álvaro Laiz: “Can a man sell a piece of his motherland? Can a man sell a piece of his body? Even for the highest price? No, he cannot! Or he will cease to be a human being.” Yuri Rytkheu. The Chukchi have lived along the Bering coasts for thousands of years. Their traditional lifestyle has evolved according to their mode of subsistence, showing how inhabitant and habitat are not two different entities, but in fact different sides of the same entity. This series explores the concept of natural symmetry, and reflects on the human ability to create fictions, and how these fictions (or myths)
explain and modify the objective world in sophisticated ways. It also raises questions about the Anthropocene era and how humans relate to themselves and other species.
Robin Hinsch: Covering 70,000 sq km (27,000 sq miles) of wetlands, the Niger Delta was formed primarily by sediment deposition. The region is home to more than 30 million people and 40 different ethnic groups, making up 7.5% of Nigeria’s total land mass. It used to boast an incredibly rich ecosystem, containing one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, before the oil industry moved in. The Nigerian department of petroleum resources estimates that 1.89 million barrels were spilled in to the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996. What’s more, a report from the United Nations suggests there have been a total of 6,817 spills between 1976 and 2001, amounting to some three million barrels of oil. So far, the authorities and oil companies have done little to clean up and neutralise the Delta, and oil spills are still very common. Half of the spills are caused by pipeline and tanker accidents, while others are the result of sabotage (28%), oil production operations (21%), and inadequate production equipment (1%). Another issue in the Niger Delta is gas flaring, a byproduct of oil extraction. As the gas burns it destroys crops, pollutes water and has a negative impact on human health. Wahala was shot in Nigeria in 2019 and draws attention to untamed economic growth and its negative impact on ecology.
Ronny Behnert: Evidence of Shintoism and Buddhism – the most common religions in Japan – can be found in every corner of the country. Shrines and torii (traditional Japanese gates commonly found at the entrance to Shinto shrines, marking the transition from mundane to sacred spaces) can be seen in the remotest of locations, from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the highest mountains and the deepest forests.
Most of the time I use neutral density filters to force long exposures and keep my work minimalist in style. Some of my exposures last five minutes or more, which makes any distracting elements in the water or sky disappear – the longer the exposure, the clearer the photograph.
Adalbert Mojrzisch: Most of my subjects are found dead on window sills or in zoological gardens – in that sense you could say they are unremarkable. At first glance the insects appear grey and dirty, but when viewed at high magnifications (usually between 5x and 80x) interesting structures and beautiful colours begin to emerge. Recording such fine detail requires specialist equipment, some of which I have developed and assembled myself. I use a homemade photo-tube, and microscope-lenses corrected to infinity, mounted on a homemade rail. The subject is lit via four flashes triggered by a homemade controller. Each image is a composite of between 200 and 600 individual pictures stacked and stitched together. The calculations are made using Zerene Stacker.
Sasha Maslov: In a country that has been torn apart by political turmoil, war and loss of territory – not to mention corruption and a permanently troubled economy – few people pay attention to the women they see from a passing train, standing still with a folded yellow flag. In this series I explore my childhood fascination with railroads and the fairy-tale houses that stand beside the tracks. As a photographer I was drawn to the architecture and interiors of these buildings. As a storyteller I was attracted by the anthropological and social roles played by the crossings and the workers. During the course of this project it occurred to me that the crossings are reassuringly permanent – they stand firm in the face of constant change. Unfazed by the passing of trains and time, they are here to stay.
Denis Rouvre: Unsung Heroes is a project about violence against women around the world. In 2019, with support from international humanitarian association Médecins du Monde, I visited five continents and met more than 100 victims of violence. The women agreed to testify, their faces uncovered, in front of my camera. Some subjects had suffered violence linked to displacement following the war in Syria and in Colombia, others had survived domestic abuse, or the use of collective rape as a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still more had faced moral violence, sexual exploitation, or discrimination against gender identity in Nepal, Cameroon and Uganda.
The women I met are shadows that enter the light. The bruises and creases on the surface of their skin tell a story. Added to this are the voices, the words, the intimate experiences of violence that were shared. I wanted to show the suffering experienced by these women, but also their strength and resilience – in short, their ability to get up and fight again.
Cesar Dezfuli: On 1st August 2016, 118 people were rescued from a rubber boat drifting in the Mediterranean Sea. The boat had departed some hours prior from Libya. In an attempt to give a human face to this event, I photographed the passengers minutes after their rescue. Their faces, their looks, the marks on their bodies all reflected the mood and physical state they were in after a journey that had already marked their lives forever. It was the beginning of a project that has been evolving ever since. It soon became clear that the people I photographed on that August day were not themselves. Their identities had become diluted somewhere along the way – hidden as a result of fear, or stolen through past abuses and humiliations. Over the last three years I have worked to locate the 118 passengers of the boat, now scattered across Europe, in a bid to understand and document their true identities. I wanted to show that each individual had a latent identity that just needed a peaceful context in order to flourish again.
Andrea Staccioli: Months of training, tests, gym sessions and refinement of technique comes to a head at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea in 2019. Eight days of competitions, 13 disciplines and 267 women and men from 47 nations compete in the most important competition of the year. Of the 13 gold medals available, only one, taken by Australia, will escape the Chinese team.
Lucas Barioulet: Founded in 2019, the Mauritanian women’s national football team played its first international match, against Djibouti, last summer (it was defeated 3-1). The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a deeply conservative society, and for many the idea of women taking part in such a sport is unpalatable. Coach Abdoulaye Diallo – a former Mauritanian international player – visited the playgrounds of Nouakchott to recruit women for the team. Here he found girls playing football with boys, often in secret. Now Haby, Coumba, Adjara, Fama and the rest of the team train four times a week under his watchful eye. “We want to change society’s vision of women in Mauritania,” claims the director of the feminine football federation, Oumou Kane. The path has not been easy, but being part of the team enables women of all backgrounds to play together, in a society that is still heavily divided.
Angel Lõpez: Wrestling has become the number one national sport in Senegal and parts of The Gambia. It belongs to a larger West African form of traditional wrestling (known as Lutte Traditionnelle) and is more popular than football. Senegalese wrestlers practice two forms of the sport: Lutte Traditionnelle avec frappe and Lutte Traditionnelle sans frappe (international version). The sport has become a means of social ascendance, making some athletes millionaires. Fights have been known to attract audiences of around 50 thousand in a stadium. For many, it’s a slice of African life, tradition and culture, in which there is a mix of animist and Muslim beliefs. These pictures show wrestlers training on a beach in Dakar.
Alessandro Gandolfi: “In the 21st century,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, “humans are likely to make a serious bid for immortality […] A small but growing number of scientists and intellectuals have posited that the most important challenge facing modern science is to overcome death and achieve the promise of eternal youth”. Can man really become immortal? Few truly believe it, and so research has focused on cryo-conservation, man-machine hybridisation and mind downloads instead. The majority of scientists agree, however, that average life spans will extend up to 120 years of age and that our health will improve considerably, thanks in particular to the enormous progress being made in the sectors of bioengineering, nanomedicine, genetics and artificial intelligence. Research into longevity has already become a billion-dollar business.