“Five Degrees” by Federico Borella, Italy, Photographer of the Year, Professional, Documentary (Professional), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. India, Tamil Nadu, May 2018. Rasathi, the wife of Selvarasy, a farmer who committed suicide in May 2017 by hanging himself in his own field. He got into debt with a cooperative society. A study carried out by Tamma A. Carleton, and published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) analyzed climate data from the last 47 years and compared it with the number of farmer suicides in the same period. The research concluded that changes in temperatures which have been occurring since the 1980s have played a role in the decision by thousands of farmers to take their own lives.
For his moving series that investigates the rising suicide rates of farmers in India, Italian photographer Federico Borella was named the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards‘ Photographer of the Year. Borella's series Five Degrees is just one of many incredible sets of imagery recently celebrated at the contest's London awards ceremony.
After naming the best single images from the Open Competition, professional photographers were judged based on a set of five to ten photographs. While Borella took home the top award and $25,000 prize, several other photographers were also celebrated. Artist Christy Lee Rogers was named Open Photographer of the Year for her spectacular series of underwater imagery that uses light and complex compositions to create photographs akin to oil paintings. Returning to the professional competition, ten photographers were awarded first place across different categories, from sports to portraiture.
Each winning photo series displays the technical excellence and creativity necessary to rise above more than 300,000 photographs that were submitted to the 2019 competition. For Borella, his grand prize win is a validation of the hard work and effort that goes into his craft as a photojournalist. “This Award is one of the most important things for my career and my life. This kind of visibility is amazing because it allows me and my work to reach a global audience. It is a ‘golden ticket’ that happens once in a lifetime. I feel a huge responsibility because I have been able to witness and record this situation as a photojournalist. This award is proof to my subjects that they can trust me—and for my profession this is fundamental.”
Now in its twelfth year, the Sony World Photography Awards is not only a platform for global talent, but it also highlights youth and student work. American student Zelle Westfall's stunning portrait Abuot won her the title of Youth Photographer of the Year. Taken in response to the “Diversity” theme, Westfall's portrait is a sensitive take on issues of discrimination based on skin color that unfortunately run rampant in society. “Abuot is my friend from school and she is one of the funniest people I know,” shares the 18-year-old Atlanta-based student. “In today's society, with skin bleaching products and colorism flooding the media, it's important to highlight the beauty of dark-skinned women who are often told that they are ‘too dark.' ”
The winning and shortlisted images from the Professional, Open, Youth, and Student Competitions are now on display at Somerset House in London until May 6, 2019. It's also possible to purchase the official catalog or prints of select images from the contest via the World Photo Organisation's online shop.
The 2019 Sony World Photography Awards culminated with the announcement of the grand prize winners.
“Five Degrees” by Federico Borella, Italy, Photographer of the Year, Professional, Documentary (Professional), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. India, Tamil Nadu, May 2018. One of the skulls claimed to be the skull of a farmer who committed suicide, held by Mr. Premkumar, a member of the South Indian Farmers Association. This skull was also used during a protest in Delhi in 2017, where farmers demanded a drought relief package and loan waiver for peasants from the state. But what leads farmers to this extreme act? They run into debt to invest in production, agriculture-related activities, machinery maintenance, and to repay previous loans. Despite these efforts, harvests damaged by adverse weather, economic factors, and short-sighted water management lead to debt repayment failure. Thus, a kernel of slow and gradual mental agony sneaks into these land workers’ minds and grows into the shame they feel towards their family and society. Could the dramatic increase in Indian farmers who take their own lives be closely connected to climate change and rising temperatures? A study from Berkeley University found a correlation between climate change and suicide among Indian farmers. It is estimated that 59.300 farmer suicides over the last 30 years are attributable to climate change. According to experts, temperatures in India could increase by another 5°F by 2050. Without focused government intervention, global warming will lead to more suicides all over India. But what leads farmers to this extreme act? They run into debt through investing in production, and repaying previous loans. Despite these efforts, harvests damaged by adverse weather, and short-sighted water management lead to debt repayment failure. The impact of climate change affects global wellbeing, going beyond India and threatening mankind as a whole. This project is located in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India, which is facing the worst drought for 140 years.
“Harmony” by Christy Lee Rogers, United States of America, Open Photographer of the Year, Open, Motion (Open competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. Shot underwater in Hawaii, this image is part of my Muses Collection. What started to work best for me was having a perspective from outside of the water, looking in and using the surface of a pool as a canvas, utilizing natural effects like the refraction of light with movement to bend reality, and shooting at night so I could really control my light.
“Abuot” by Zelle Westfall, United States of America, Youth Photographer of the Year, Youth, Diversity (2019 Youth competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. I had this image in my mind before I took it. This was the very first shot, just to test the lighting. Right away, I knew this was exactly what I was going for. The rest of the shoot was spent collaborating with Jordan. Abuot is my friend from school and she is one of the funniest people I know. In today's society, with skin bleaching products and colorism flooding the media, it's important to highlight the beauty of dark-skinned women who are often told that they are “too dark.”
“La Terreta” by Sergi Villanueva, Spain, Student Photographer of the Year, Student, 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. In my dialect, Valencian, there is a word that describes pride for the land where I belong: La Terreta. A feeling that surrounds us all, be part of La Terreta is to love our roots, the richness of our land, our culture, our people, our identity.Every time I go to La Terreta there is a sign that I see on the road that welcomes me home: the orange groves. That is why in this series I have focused on capturing daily life around the orange trees. From the farmers who plant and care for the trees to harvest the fruit, to the women who choose the oranges that will end up around the world. The orange tree is the essence of my land, it maintains the feeling of belonging and leaves the door open to future generations, spreading a message about the value of taking care of what nature gives us as a part of our identity.
“cut outs – lanes” by Stephan Zirwes, Germany, 1st Place, Professional, Architecture (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. In Germany, pools are public. They are part of social and cultural life, open for all kind of social classes, a place where people spend a lot of time, especially in childhood and which leaves pleasant memories. Everybody can afford the inexpensive entrance fee. The series was shot by drone, in summer 2018 at a height of only a few meters.
“Chosen [not] to be” by Marinka Masséus, Netherlands, 1st Place , Professional, Creative (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. This series is part of the Radical Beauty project, an international photography project which aims to give people with Down’s Syndrome their rightful place in visual arts. The young women I worked with shared a strong will to succeed. To prove themselves. It must be beyond frustrating to be underestimated all the time. With ‘Chosen [not] to be’ I reflect on their reality – the barriers they face, society’s refusal to see their capabilities, the invisibility of their true selves – and translate their experiences visually. In the Netherlands, people with Down’s Syndrome have collected their experiences in a book, called Zwartboek (Black book). They have offered this book to the government as a catalyst for change. Reading the collection of stories in this book broke my heart. There is so much misinformation. This misinformation leads to misconceptions and widely held preconceived notions which profoundly impact the lives of people with Down’s.
“To the South of the Colourful Clouds” by Yan Wang Preston, United Kingdom, 1st Place, Professional, Landscape (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. “To the south of the colourful clouds” (2017) depicts the otherworldly “ecology recovery” landscape in Haidong Development Zone in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Here, a small rural area is being urbanised systematically to create “an international leisure town and an ecology model town.” In doing so, the topsoil of the entire area is replaced by a type of red, semi-artificial soil, which forms the base for introduced, mostly non-indigenous plants, including thousands of mature trees. Meanwhile, green plastic netting is used to cover everything unappealing to the eye, from construction waste to disused quarries. The town’s objective here has shifted from an “ecological” concern to a cosmetic one of trying to be visually green. The images are part of an eight-year project “Forest” (2010-2017), for which the photographer investigates the politics of recreating forests and “natural” environments in new Chinese cities.
“Meet Bob” by Jasper Doest, Netherlands, 1st Place, Professional, Natural World & Wildlife (Professional), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. Bob is a Caribbean flamingo, from the Dutch island of Curaçao. His life took a dramatic turn when he flew into a hotel window, leaving him severely concussed. He was cared for by Odette Doest, a local vet who also runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre and conservation charity – the Fundashon Dier en Onderwijs Cariben (FDOC). Existing disabilities meant Bob couldn’t be released, but instead he became ambassador for FDOC, which educates locals about the importance of protecting the island’s wildlife. Bob walks through the hallway, past the bathroom, back to his room. During rehabilitation, DVM Odette Doest found out that Bob had been habituated by humans and therefore could not be reintroduced back into the wild. So now he spends his time at her house, where he shares a room with his other avian rescue friends.
“Boxing Against Violence: The Female Boxers Of Goma” by Alessandro Grassani, Italy, 1st Place, Professional, Sport (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. Democratic Republic of Congo. Goma. 28/05/2018. 18 year-old Blandini portrayed on the building site where she occasionally spend her nights. She also trains in the so-called Friendship Boxing Club. Blandini tells: “We live under the threat of being beaten and violated by men, in a general condition of discrimination. I was kicked out of my family by my mother’s second husband and found myself on the streets. For a living I do little jobs at people’s houses, although my biggest concerns are about defending myself. That's why I do boxing: to prepare myself for life, to become a champion and maybe earn a living. My husband left me when my second child was born, leaving me completely unprotected. Once I was covered with petroleum by a group of men and set alight like a candle. The scars on my neck and my arm are the reminder of that night.”
“Ubuntu – I Am Because We Are” by Rebecca Fertinel, Belgium, 1st Place, Professional, Brief (Professional), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. In August 2015 the photographer (b. 1991) was invited to a wedding by her friend Tracy. Here, the photographer was introduced to the warm, unabashed approach to life of the Congolese community in Belgium and the Bantu concept “Ubuntu”: that you only really become human when you are connected to everything and everyone. The concept of Ubuntu seems to intertwine with the desire to belong to a group and maintain a group identity in a changing environment. Showing the ambiance but also the silent moments in between, I tried to capture the feeling of an event that seems like a true celebration, focused on joy and ritual and not on the need for a perfect venue. This project wants to place the viewer in an environment that most have experienced at one time or another at a wedding, party or a wake.
“The Edge” by Álvaro Laiz, Spain, 1st Place, Professional, Portraiture (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. Humans have inhabited North America for at least 16,500 years since they first stepped through the Bering Strait. The Chukchi, a Paleo-Siberian tribe from the Russian side of the Bering Strait may be key to understanding how America was inhabited. In Chukchi culture, past, present and future are intimately linked. You are not just you: you are your father, your grandfather and your great-grandfather, back to the first Bering Strait hunter. Thanks to population genetics research we are now certain that the first Chukchi hunters left their genetic footprint in all Native American people when they first settled in America. From the Navajo to the Mayans; from Alaska to Tierra de Fuego. The Edge combines this poetic yet powerful idea of shared memory and science through population genetics data analysis for every participant. A visual journey where past and future combine, exploring a period of our history full of unanswered questions and raising new ones about our understanding of current migratory processes across the entire American continent.
“Untitled” Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni, Italy, 1st Place, Professional, Discovery (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. A Syrian refugees girl in Tarlabasi. She lost both her parents during the war and was taken to Istanbul by some family friends, who now take care of her. The peculiar color of her eyes according to her adoptive family is a gift of God. Güle Güle (goodbye in Turkish) is a personal project focused on the city of Istanbul. To document the profound changes happening in the city and within Turkish society, we got in close contact with the realities that are the driving forces and the results of this change. Photographs derive from multiple relationships, penetrating the complexity of the city and its contrasting microcosms. Gentrification, the marginalization of the poorer classes, increasing discrimination against homosexuality, the massive migration of Syrian refugees and the Kurdish community issue are just some of the hidden realities behind the subjects portrayed. While still following a documentary approach, we decided to leave the informative and didactic content of the images in the background to foster their visual immediacy and an open-ended narrative.
“Yuck – Suck my Balls” by Nicolas Gaspardel & Pauline Baert, France, 1st Place, Professional, Still Life (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards. With a touch of mockery, BEURKMAGAZINE photographs food every day through metaphors that are as poetic as they are disturbing. For BEURKMAGAZINE, society is “yuck” in a pop culture universe. Our creative approach is composed of antithesis. Dali amused himself by composing works with irrational associations of forms, images, and objects; Maurizio Cattelan, meanwhile, focuses on the subversion of symbols and provocation; we are somewhere in between, with a more general than a personal point of view and a desire to give ugliness an artificial beauty. Food is at the center of our ideas, which are magnified, manipulated and reworked to highlight our message. The pop tone, tight shots and especially the titles are an integral part of our signature.