Must-See Winners of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards

Black and white image of a man leaning backwards in front of a tree

Untitled, from the series “Our War.” © Edgar Martins, Portugal, Photographer of the Year, Professional competition, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“In 2011, my dear friend and the photojournalist, Anton Hammerl, travelled to Libya to cover the conflict between pro-regime and anti-Gaddafi forces. On 5 April he was forcefully abducted and killed by government militia. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the investigation to find his mortal remains, in 2022 I took matters into my own hands and travelled to Libya. This previously unseen body of work is structured as a self-portrait of Anton Hammerl through the people he photographed and met, and others involved in the conflict (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on). They were selected because they resembled him, espoused similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded me of him at different stages of our friendship. This project portrays a complex story, warped by absence, that talks of the difficulty of documenting, testifying, witnessing, remembering, honouring and imagining.”

During a special gala ceremony in London, the World Photography Organisation revealed the overall winners of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards. Portuguese photographer Edgar Martins was given the honor of being named Photographer of the Year for his moving series of images to honor his friend, photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was killed while covering the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Along with Martins, the overall winners of the Open, Youth, and Student competitions were also revealed, as well as some special award recipients.

Martins won a $25,000 cash prize and Sony imaging equipment and will have a solo presentation of his work at next year's Sony World Photography Awards exhibition. For Martins, the win is not only about validating his photography, but also about bringing more visibility to his friend's disappearance.

“It is a huge honor to be recognized and although I am philosophical about awards and the subjective nature of someone’s choice, knowing that there were over 180,000 entries to this year’s Professional competition, is very humbling,” he shared. “In this case, it is also quite an emotional experience because I get to honor my friend on a world stage and bring attention to the family’s plight to find his remains.”

As Martins was not able to conduct a proper investigation when he traveled to Libya, he chose to reconstruct a vision of what Hammerl might have experienced by documenting the people met and those involved in the conflict. The result struck a cord with the judges, which elevated his work above the other Professional category winners in the running for the top prize.

“Photography is so often about memory and its nature. Long-term memory is about the conscious recollection of past events and our knowledge of them—be it through direct experience or mediated through the myriad of media we use,” shared Professional judging chair Mike Trow. “Our War by Edgar Martins has used memory and invention to give us a powerful, personal set of portraits that attempt to explain the last days of his friend, the photojournalist Anton Hammerl. His work highlights the lengths photographers will go to to tell a story and create meaning; each image giving a sense of the journey Anton took without ever being explicit about how his life ended.”

Other photographers singled out in the ceremony include Mexican wildlife photographer Dinorah Graue Obscura, who was named Open Photographer of the Year, as well as Long Jing from China's Yunnan Arts University, who won the Student competition. Seventeen-year-old Hai Wang from China won the Youth competition, which was centered around the theme “Your Everyday.” He took home the prize for his striking photo of colorful empty chairs at a school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time, the Sony World Photography Awards also handed out a Sustainability Prize. Developed with the United Nations and Sony Pictures’ Picture This initiative, it recognizes the stories, people, and organizations whose actions highlight one of the United Nations’ environmental Sustainable Development Goals. Italian photographer Alessandro Cinque won for his series Atrapanieblas (Fog Nets), which shows an innovative solution to a water shortage in Lima, Peru.

Over 200 prints and hundreds of additional images in digital displays from winning and shortlisted photographers are currently on display at Somerset House in London until May 1, 2023 as part of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 exhibition. Also presented are works by this year’s Outstanding Contribution to Photography, the esteemed Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi.

See the Professional, Youth, and Student winners of this year's 2023 Sony World Photography Awards.

Edgar Martins Sony World Photographer of the Year 2023

Untitled, from the series “Our War.” © Edgar Martins, Portugal, Photographer of the Year, Professional competition, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Gaddafi lookalike in abandoned regime compound.”

Libyan Dissident freedom fighter in makeshift burka

Untitled, from the series “Our War.” © Edgar Martins, Portugal, Photographer of the Year, Professional competition, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Dissident freedom fighter in a makeshift burka. In 2011, my dear friend and photojournalist, Anton Hammerl, traveled to Libya to cover the conflict between pro-regime and anti-Gaddafi forces. On 5 April, he was forcefully abducted and killed by government militia. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the investigation to find his mortal remains, in 2022, I took matters into my own hands and traveled to Libya. This previously unseen body of work is structured as a self-portrait of Anton Hammerl through the people he photographed and met, and others involved in the conflict (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on). They were selected because they resembled him, espoused similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded me of him at different stages of our friendship. This project portrays a complex story, warped by absence, that talks of the difficulty of documenting, testifying, witnessing, remembering, honoring, and imagining.”

Black and White Photo of Two Crested Caracaras Perched on a Tree

“Mighty Pair” © Dinorah Graue Obscura, Mexico, Open Photographer of the Year, Natural World & Wildlife, 2023 Sony World Photography Awards.
“I think that a good picture does not need color; it just needs to capture the desired moment in time. While I was shooting Crested Caracaras in flight in South Texas, I noticed these two, which were perched in a very similar way. They were staring in the same direction and not moving, almost as if they were posing for me. I was amazed by their powerful personalities.”

Rows of Empty Colorful Chairs

Untitled © Hai Wang, China Mainland, Youth Photographer of the Year, Youth competition, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“The opening ceremony for this school in Tianjin, China, was scheduled for September 4, 2022, and more than 2,000 people were expected to attend. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was there. The neat rows of brightly colored chairs create a strong sense of order in this lonely photograph, where everything seems to be fake.”

Behind the Scenes of Yunnan Opera

“Keep the Yunnan Opera” © Long Jing, China Mainland, Student Photographer of the Year, Student competition, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
” Yunnan opera is an important branch of traditional Chinese opera and one that reflects the colorful Yunnan ethnic multiculturalism of southwest China. However, in today’s fast-developing society, this regional drama is in decline and is gradually being forgotten by most people. There are only a few folk troupes remaining that represent Yunnan Quyi culture, and the average age of their members and audiences is increasing. This particular theatre is located along a small alley and charges just seven yuan for a ticket.”

Black Bears at Back Door of Woman's House

“Janice and Cubs” from the series “Cities Gone Wild” © Corey Arnold, United States, 1st Place, Professional competition, Wildlife & Nature, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
” Cities Gone Wild is an exploration of three savvy animals—black bears, coyotes, and raccoons—that have uniquely equipped to survive and even thrive in the human-built landscape while other animals are disappearing. I tracked these animals in cities across America to reveal a more intimate view of how wildlife is adapting to increased urbanization.”

Seven raccoons caught on a road; three of them are standing on their hind legs

Untitled, from the series “Cities Gone Wild” © Corey Arnold, United States, 1st Place, Professional competition, Wildlife & Nature, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.

Creative Photo of Young Girl at Kenyan Dream School

“Purity Ntetia Lopores” from the series “The Right To Play” © Lee-Ann Olwage, South Africa, 1st Place, Professional competition, Creative, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Portrait of Purity Ntetia Lopores, 14, a student at Kakenya’s Dream school, who says: ‘I love art and would love to pursue music in the future.’ The flowers are used to create a playful world where girls are shown exuding pride and joy and in this way the flowers are also used to reclaim their futures and dreams and to re-imagine the narrative of child marriage. What do girls dream of? And what happens when a supportive environment is created where girls are empowered and given the opportunity to learn and dream? The Right to Play creates a playful world where girls are shown in an empowered and affirming way. Worldwide, it is estimated that around 129 million girls are out of school and only 49 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, with the gap widening at secondary school level. Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices such as FGM, poor infrastructure and violence. For this project, I worked with girls from Kakenya’s Dream in Enoosaen, Kenya who have avoided FGM and child marriage, showing what the world can look like when girls are given the opportunity to continue learning in an environment that supports them and their dreams.”

Portrait of Peace activist Liberata Buratwa from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Untitled from the series “The Women’s Peace Movement in Congo.o.” © Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, United Kingdom, 1st Place, Professional competition, Documentary Projects, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Peace activist Liberata Buratwa. ‘I have been working for peace since I was very young’, she says. In 2008, at the height of a spate of massacres, Liberata led a delegation of women to meet Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the CNDP rebel group. ‘We told him, “my son, rebellion will lead you nowhere, the bush is for the animals, not for the people”’.
Rutshuru, North Kivu Province, DRC. Nearly 20 years on from a conflict that killed five million people and upended tenfold more lives, the Democratic Republic of Congo is once again sliding into chaos. As renewed conflict with the M23 rebels, massacres and regional militarisation caught the world’s attention this year, the vital contribution of women to peace remains invisible. Despite escalating violence, some women are working to create dialogue between armed actors and communities. They track human rights violations, warn of impending violence and plead with rebel leaders to stop attacks. In doing so, they take immense risks. Pairing rare visuals of the frontlines with portraits and in-depth stories from women, this long-term project follows activists as they mobilize. While media crews come in briefly to shoot scenes of war and displacement, I have spent many months in hard-to-access areas covering conflict and documenting the slow work of peace from a unique perspective.”

A group of Wayuu children in Polumacho with Emilio, the leader of the village

Untitled from the series “Miruku” © Marisol Mendez (Bolivia) & Federico Kaplan (Argentina), 1st Place, Professional competition, Environment, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“A group of Wayuu children in Polumacho with Emilio, the leader of the village, in November 2021.
Emilio told us: ‘At the moment we don’t have enough water; what water we do have we can’t use for drinking. The times of drought have always been difficult. That happens in the months of January, February, from then for about three or four months. If the year goes by and it doesn’t rain, it is very difficult.’ Miruku focuses on the Wayuus, an indigenous population from La Guajira, Colombia’s coastal desert. Commissioned by 1854/British Journal of Photography and WaterAid, the project examines how a combination of climate change issues and human negligence have led its various members to experience a stifling water shortage. In the region, the problem is cyclical and polymorphous. While some communities can achieve certain stability during rainy seasons, temperatures are bound to rise, drying up the land again. Global warming only aggravates this, causing droughts and famine, and spoiling the facilities and installations that help source clean water. We framed the story from a female perspective to get a better understanding of how gender inequality and climate vulnerability interrelate. We sought to highlight the strength and resourcefulness of the Wayuu women, as we found it inspiring that, even under such conditions, they have established themselves as community leaders, teachers and climate activists. Through our diptychs, we wanted to convey a visual balance between a raw and a lyrical documentation, and achieve a nuanced portrayal of a multihued situation.”

Portrait of Kelsie Whitmore, the First Female Professional Baseball Player to Play in an All-Male Pro League

Untitled from the series “Female Pro Baseball Player Succeeds in All Male Pro League” © Al Bello, United States, Winner, Professional competition, Sport, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Kelsie Whitmore is the first female professional baseball player to play in an all-male pro league. She plays outfield and pitches for the Staten Island Ferryhawks in the Atlantic League of professional baseball. Her debut in the Atlantic League was as a pinch runner on 22 April 2022, and on 1 May she became the first woman to start an Atlantic League game, when she played as a left fielder. Just three days later she was the first woman to pitch in an Atlantic League game and on 3 September 2022 Kelsie became the first woman to record a hit in association with Major League Baseball.”

All of the images are included in a special exhibition in London on display until May 1.

Tieshan Cement Factory in China

“Cement Factory” © Fan Li, China Mainland, 1st Place, Professional competition, Architecture & Design, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Tieshan Cement Factory is located in Guilin City in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China. The factory was built in 1996 and played an important role in Guilin’s economic development and urban construction. However, because it was originally located in the Li River Scenic Area of Guilin, the cement factory has now been relocated, leaving behind the old buildings, water towers, pools, and railway tracks.”

Artistic Aerial Photographer by Kacper Kowalski

“Woodland Kids” from the series “Event Horizon” © Kacper Kowalski, Poland, 1st Place, Professional competition, Landscape, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“From a height of around 100 meters (330 feet), a frozen lake reveals fox tracks, streaks of fresh snow, and dark structures of wet ice; the holes and bush-like forms are caused by methane bubbling up.
I didn’t know what I would see when I was flying – I allowed instinct to take over, like a bird taking off from its nest. At the start of winter I set out on a journey in search of harmony. Driven by instinct, I ventured further and further until I passed the boundaries of rationality. Whether it was fog or snow, frost or thaw, I took to the sky to see if it was possible to fly. When I could, I flew over frozen bodies of water, fascinated by their icy forms. Between January and March, I made 76 solo flights in a gyrocopter or a motorized paraglider, covering around 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and spending 200 hours in the air. My photographs were taken from a height of approximately 50-150 meters (165-495 feet) above bodies of water near Tricity in northern Poland.”

Two Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia at the Beach During Eid

Untitled from the series “Portfolio” © James Deavin, United Kingdom, 1st Place, Professional competition, Portfolio, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Two migrant workers at the beach during Eid celebrations. Eid is a holiday for all in Saudi and the beaches are full of people from all walks of life, although most say it is still too cold to swim. This portfolio was shot in the first half of 2022 in Saudi Arabia, where I was based at the time. Given more time, I think these pictures would have fallen into more defined projects or narratives, perhaps relating to the large migrant worker and expat population (of which I was part), or Saudi car culture. As it is, I believe this collection shows my style and technique as a photographer – there is no deliberate connection between the images other than I was searching for special photographs that could eventually develop into projects.”

Award Winning Photography Series

Untitled © Alessandro Cinque, Italy, Winner, Sustainability Prize, Professional competition, Documentary Projects, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“A woman carrying a net to be installed by her fellow barrio members. For many people, it is hoped that these nets will provide financial savings. After Cairo, Lima is the second city in the world to be built in a desert. In recent years, migration from rural Peru to Lima has increased significantly, but the people who manage to settle in Lima are typically very poor, and their biggest problem is the lack of water. One solution that gives them hope is fog nets. Consisting of two poles that support a nylon net with small holes in it, these nets can collect about 200 liters (53 gallons) of water per day. The founder of the project is Abel Cruz, who started work on it more than 20 years ago, when he left his home region of Cusco and came to Lima to live in a settlement where water was a luxury. According to Abel, there are now about 140 fog nets installed in Lima; this project aims to show how this artisanal method could help combat water shortages.”

Sony World Photography Awards 2023 Winners

Untitled from the series “The Sky Garden” © Kechun Zhang, China Mainland, Winner, Professional competition, Still Life, Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
“Landscape gardening is a practice dating back to ancient times; Nebuchadnezzar II of the Babylonian Empire built a garden complex in the sky for his homesick princess consort, which was known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Sky Garden series takes its name from this history. Three years ago I settled down in Wenjiang, and there is a tree nursery within walking distance of my home. Exotic trees and rocks from all over the world can be seen there, including Japanese black pines and maple trees. There are workers lifting these trees and rocks with mobile cranes every day, transporting them and planting them in newly built parks, neighborhoods or streets in the city. I walk through the woods and take photographs when the trees and rocks are being lifted into the air. Together, these images create The Sky Garden series.”

Self Portrait of Young Guatemalan Migrant in Mexico

“Migrantes 02,” from the series “Migrantes” © Adam Ferguson, Australia, 1st Place, Professional competition, Portraiture, 2022 Sony World Photography Awards.
“Stephanie Solano, age 17, from Zacapa, Guatemala. She takes a portrait of herself at an informal migrant camp at a municipal park in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico on 3 May 2021. This is a series of self-portraits of migrants in Mexico, as they wait to cross the border into the United States.The life of a migrant at the border, waiting for the right moment to cross into the United States, is often in flux. To capture a piece of this uncertain journey, I mounted a medium format camera on a tripod with a cable release and then stepped back, allowing the migrants to choose the moment of capture and give them agency in the process of documenting their lives.”

World Photography Organisation: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by the Sony World Photography Awards.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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