Life Framer Photography Award 2021: All “Youthhood” Winners

Life Framer announces the winners from its June 2021 call for entries – Youthhood judged by Dutch fine art photographer Hellen van Meene. The resulting selection of 20 diverse images represents work from creative amateur and professional photographers working all over the world.

 

About Life Framer

Life Framer is an award that showcases creative photography from amateur and professional artists. Every Edition we run 12 monthly calls for entries, each overseen by a world-renowned photographer or industry professional, and winners are exhibited in curated shows at gallery spaces around the world. Now in our seventh Edition, past judges have included Steve McCurry, Bruce Gilden, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Alex Prager, along with curators and editors from MoMA, Tate Modern and the International Center of Photography, and exhibitions have been held in London, New York, Milan, Tokyo and Paris.

 

About the competition and judge

Youth is a fascinating phase of life – the innocence and purity of childhood, of curiosity and play, through to teenagehood where we explore feelings, relationships and interests that shape us into the adults we will become. Every emotion is felt more acutely by the young – from crushing boredom through to unfettered glee. Youth can feel infinitely expansive, something we all experience first-hand, and many of us experience again with a renewed perspective as parents. And while the young learn many things from us, we can perhaps learn as much from them. It is therefore no surprise that it’s a subject that so many photographers turn to – but the best work doesn’t just show the young, through them it explores broader ideas of that speak to our pasts and futures. Hellen van Meene puts it well – “Making photos of children is not an easy task. A good photo should be interesting and appealing, and not only for the mother of the child who is in the picture. It's imporant to try to avoid "easy cuteness" - any successful image says something more universal to a broader audience.” This selection of twenty images from twenty talented emerging photographers take us through a variety of subject matter and approaches, painting a picture of youth in the world today.

Judging was overseen by Hellen van Meene, a celebrated Dutch fine art photographer, best known for her beautifully staged square format portraits of adolescents. Through meticulous use of natural light and color, and careful observation of body language, her work has a painterly quality and speaks to themes of transition and psychological tension that are associated with this liminal phase of life. She has work held in the collections of major institutions such as the Guggenheim in New York, V&A Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Art Institute of Chicago, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

 

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1st Prize © Bob Haft

Website / Instagram

In this photo there is the tension of the rifle and the unknown victim of the "shooter" out of frame. The child standing in the middle watches the viewer (us) and perhaps the shooter. I think this composition is therefore very interesting; it creates questions which are not easily answered. In the US the issue of private gun ownership is large, and the relative ease with which one can access a weapon is well known and shocking to those of us in other parts of the world. This photo raises questions in that regard - should children so young children grow up around weapons? (Hellen van Meene)

2nd Prize © Amaan Ali

Website / Instagram

We see a young person trying to keep the fires out. We and the subject know their efforts are of no use, but if you don't try then you stand to lose more. It's a photo with a huge story - a portrait on one hand, and a documentary image on the other. We all understand environmental issues these days, yet it is still not enough to look after our planet. This photo warns us that if we don't act soon we'll be standing alone with a huge enemy in front of us. Or rather our children will. (Hellen van Meene)

“Rush of blood. Fire in forest is a common phenomenon which generally occurs either by negligence or unknowingly by humans. In this photo, a boy can be seen fighting like a mad beast against the fire that broke out near his home. Though the fire wasn't deadly, the pernicious effect of it made everybody unable to breathe properly. Later, when I asked for the reason for his stupidity, he angrily replied that the authority never listens to his family's plea and in every 3 months this usually happens.”

Winning image © Natalia Kepesz

Website / Instagram
Youthhood for many is a complex balance between standing out and fitting in – of exploring one’s own thoughts, feelings, interests and creative expression, while following the crowd, and not being different enough to draw unwanted attention. Taken from a documentary project examining the growing popularity of military high schools in Poland, this impressive portrait provides an interesting take on that tension between conformity and individuality – this young person’s shaved eyebrows, and even the act of sitting backwards on a chair feel like small feats of defiance against the rigidity and traditionalism of military life. It’s a well observed scene describing a conflict between the individual and the state, or the “cult” as Natalia puts it in her charged statement. (Life Framer)

From the series Niewybuch. “A student at a military high school in Poland. This series gives an insight into the world of military camps and schools, a phenomenon that has experienced a massive influx in Poland in recent years. Between fake blood, drill and the unreserved use of weapons, the work raises the question of the emotional effects of military education and addresses the tension between a child's search for adventure and the excesses of the Polish military cult.”

Winning image © Duy Phuong

Website / Instagram
Taken from a long-term project exploring the relationships between people and water on the shores of Tri An Lake in Vietnam, Duy presents a gorgeous, poetic image of a young child on an old wooden boat, quietly playing with their reflection in the water. Aesthetically beautiful and seemingly tranquil, it belies greater disruptive forces at play, as described in Duy’s statement. With those concepts in mind it takes on new meaning, and a tension between the child and boat – between old and new, leaving or staying – emerges. It's a quietly powerful image. (Life Framer)

“I documented the landscape and lives of communities living on the shores of Tri An Lake in South Vietnam - now the site of a hydroelectric dam. My poetic and intimate photos reflect on the bond between the people and the land, and the uncertainty that awaits them. Blending Vietnamese sensibility and French aesthetic, I have the ability to balance form and concept in a way that is both provocative and restrained. The series is formed of three consecutive parts: touching, holding and slipping part.
Water haunts my dreams. It has always been a source of obsession since I was a little boy. In my obscure childhood recollections, water stirs up unsettling feelings. I found myself in Tri An Lake by chance, the site one of the biggest hydroelectric dams in the South of Vietnam. Here, water is the fate of the people. They are the water and the water is their lives. It is also their dreams, their hopes and hopelessness.
As my acquaintance with the place deepened, I was allowed to tag along with the people whose lives revolve around the rising and ebbing of the tides. Somehow my life became interwoven into their daily life and interior world, amidst a sublime and spellbinding background. Humans, nature and memories appear and vanish, like the glimmering reflections in the river of life. Youth is like the water you've caught in your hand: it slips through your fingers when you try to hold on. So be still and let it go.”

Winning image © Nicole Krüger

WebsiteInstagram

It has been an 18 months like no other, and most of us will be pretty sick of wearing face coverings by now, finding them restrictive and claustrophobic. This image is therefore compelling for its sense of lightness, Nicole’s subject cast in sunlight and with an expression of calm and stillness, emphasized by the muted, naturalistic color palette. It’s a buoyant image that perhaps speaks to the resilience and adaptivity of young people navigating changes in life – already in a phase of change and transition themselves, as how Nicole describes in her statement. (Life Framer)

“In a year dominated by a global pandemic, I return to my roots and accompany the everyday life of my 14-year-old cousin Jocelyne in my home in the north of Brandenburg. She is growing up in the same place as I did back then - somehow the same and yet very different. I follow her and the traces of this time in the in-between of boredom and rural idyll. Between documentation and abstraction, the microcosm of a young woman on the threshold of adulthood opens up against the background of the pandemic. Space and people combine to form one story among many, and my familiar feelings and memories of this place link up with current events and the transitional phase of a new generation.”

Winning image © Joëlle Janssens

Website  / Instagram

A beautiful, sensitive image that makes exceptional use of light, framing and subject’s posture to paint an intimate portrait of youthhood. The subject looks upward into the light, it creating a pocket of clarity against deep, shadowed skintones, and it feels somehow metaphoric – of growing up and entering a new phase perhaps. Joëlle leaves it open for the viewer to decide. (Life Framer)

Winning image © Wiesje Peels

Website / Instagram

A wonderfully creative and beautifully realised images that captures something of the magic and imagination of childhood play, Wiesje employing black and white to emphasize the light and darkness, the two-tone nature of shadow projection. It’s an image that draws you in – one can imagine sitting and enjoying the show in this quiet, enchanted woodland setting. (Life Framer)

From the series Nest. “Nature and imagination are central to the work me (45) and my daughter (16), in an ongoing series consisting of photographs, text and drawings. We sketch a world based on stories from our own lives, sources of inspiration from literature, film and performative arts. All this against the background of the ever-present nature. With the lack of colour in the photography, we sketch 'existentialist black and white images'. As if color is reality and black and white the truth. We indicate the origin of life by means of a special collaboration between mother and daughter.”

Winning image © Frances Williams

Instagram

Frances seeks to document the ‘awkwardness of transition to adulthood’, and she captures something of the uncertainty of that liminal state here. Long-limbed, their growth outpacing the rest of her, Frances’ subject approaches the camera a little uncomfortably – not necessarily keen to be photographed in this way. Bare footed in sparse surroundings, we’re acutely aware of her vulnerability. Growing up, but not yet grown up. (Life Framer)

“I want to capture the awkwardness of pre-teens. The awkwardness of transition to adulthood. A moment in time that is so transient it is hard to capture in the time of social media strive for perfection. The reality versus the fake is always more appealing and interesting.”

Winning image © Manny Librodo

Instagram

It’s a shame Manny doesn’t provide any written statement alongside this image as we’d love to know more about the context and his subjects. Nonetheless we get a beautiful, arresting portrait of deep blue tones, depicting these three young girls who fill the frame and hug together tightly as if they’re wrapped in the same cloth. One makes direct eye contact with Manny’s lens, but the attention of the other two is drawn elsewhere. What holds it? And what setting do we find them in? Is it staged or a candid moment? These questions are left unanswered, and its perhaps for this reason as much as any that the image stays with you. (Life Framer)

Winning image © Anna Biret

Website / Instagram

With wonderful use of lines, light and shadow, Anna creates what feels like a timeless image that could have been taken recently or decades ago. Is this young girl impatiently waiting for something to happen in this quiet back street? Or has she been sent there by her mother behind? It’s subtle observation of an understated moment. (Life Framer)

“The emotions of children everywhere in the world are the same...
because they are real... Turkey.”

Winning image © Yoshi Shimizu

Website / Instagram

The complimentary colors of orange and blue first draws the viewer into this image, but the the sad scene in front of us very quickly becomes apparent. This girl stands on a huge mound of waste – plastic bags, bottles and other detritus of human consumption. Yoshi tells us in his statement that she lives and works at this dump, and it’s heart-breaking that this is daily life for anyone, let alone someone so young and innocent. It’s an abject reality for her directly, but also more broadly for all the young people who will inherit this mess. (Life Framer)

“A young girl lives and works at the largest landfill in Manila, Philippines.”

Winning image © Chris Scott Snyder

Website / Instagram

This is a stunning candid documentary image that both bursts with color and with life – a tower of bodies that gives so many clues to the relationship between mother and children in their vying for love and attention. What might seem cloying and suffocating to some speaks strongly to the maternal and sisterly bond, a beautiful, intense, chaotic whirlwind. And while the framing might seem a little imperfect, the top of the mother’s head cropped out of the image, it only acts to heighten this closeness. The child in the middle, making eye contact with Chris’ lens, is a particularly wonderful element of the scene – their weary expression universally familiar. (Life Framer)

“The public either ignores the many people who make the carnival function, or we imagine a fictional image of them and the "carnie" life. These photographs focus on the children who grow up in the carnival learning the trade watching their parents work exhausting hours. These kids know every foot of the fairgrounds, and they have free rein over the rides and games before the 'locals' shows up. As children grow up in this entertainment business, it's instinctive for them to carry on with the show. They often want to work when they are old enough (and sometimes even earlier,) but they also spend time playing video games in their camping trailers - their traveling homes as they constantly move from one town to another. The carnie's extended family is a network of familiar friends - some will stay with the carnival for years, and others may not show up from one year to the next. My work ventures inside their private spaces and shows the complexities of their lives on the move.”

Winning image © Hoang Long Ly

Website / Instagram

Light turns the ordinary into the magical” Trent Parke said, and this image is a wonderful example of just that. Bathed in a thin shaft of light in this otherwise dark courtyard, it is as if a spotlight has been directed by Hoang onto this young girl, glowing with a beautiful aura. Hoang’s wide perspective on the emptiness of the setting, and the way in which she interacts with him uncertainly emphasize just how little she is. We’re left wondering what her story is, who looks after her, and how she spends her time exploring this urban playground. (Life Framer)

“Home alone; a champa girl playing around her empty house in Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan, Vietnam.”

Winning image © Marjolijn De Groot

Website / Instagram

Using a mirror as a bold and unexpected framing device, it is as if we’re granted a secret, clandestine view into the lives of these two sisters that Marjolijn photographs. They lie close together, perhaps bored, perhaps tired, perhaps both. There is no decisive moment of action or excitement, but perhaps that’s the point, teenagehood after all being full of such moments, and a closed world to many parents and guardians. (Life Framer)

“This image is from a chapter of an ongoing series. I photographed the daughters of a friend over the years. These are an extract of the photographs taken from early adolescence up to (almost) adulthood.”

Winning image © Nashco Photo

Website / Instagram

A scene within a scene, Nashco pull their viewpoint away from the school portrait itself to take in the wider setting – the school hall, the lighting rig, and the line of girls waiting for their turn. It’s that latter point that’s most interesting – the school portrait a formal
and almost universal document of a moment in time, but a gratifying experience for some and a nerve-racking one for others. Assessing the line of teenagers – some looking confident, others anxious, brings this home. (Life Framer)

Winning image © Maria Ionova-Gribina

Website / Instagram

Many of the submissions tackle difficult subjects, and so it is welcome to see ones that document carefree play. Here Maria shows her children enjoying the summertime – one up close, the other charging towards the camera. It’s a typical scene, but the unexpected framing makes for something that has appeal beyond that experienced by the parent. Creatively done. (Life Framer)

“These are pictures of my children. Pictures of ‘still kids’ but ‘almost’ teenagers. They are no longer babies, but they have not yet reached adolescence. There was a red boat they used to climb on every summer when they came to grandma's house by the sea, year after year. Endless fields in the fog. The sea. Freedom! Freedom from school and assignments, freedom from the big city, freedom from convention. Summertime is a whole other life. Every summer is a certain stage of maturation. I noticed that after these vacations, my children returned home changed.”

Winning image © Josiah Esowe

Website / Instagram

Returning to his birthplace of Nigeria, Josiah presents an image far from the street scenes of Africa we so often see, instead finding a personal connection with his home of NYC through BMX culture. Here we see one such BMXer, the fashion we associate with the American subculture present and correct, the Yankies logo in particular providing a direct line between the two places. Only the background setting and rickshaw in the midground tells us this isn’t the US. It’s a reminder of the border-crossing power of subcultures and the tribalism of youthhood. (Life Framer)

“First time I heard about BMX was when I moved to NYC from Nigeria around late 90s. I learned about the X-games, made friends with skaters and BMX riders. I was in Nigeria last year to deal with some family things, and as I was leaving my hotel I ran into kids who were part of the Jos Nigeria BMX riding crew. I was shocked and happy, I spoke with them about taking some images, and these are shots I got from that encounter.”

Winning image © François Percheron

Website / Instagram

Attending school is something we might consider near universal, but it’s remarkable how many children around the world, and particularly girls, do not have access to an education. François describes this in his statement, and captures a candid moment during a lesson – all eyes on the front of the class – that slowly reveals its details. The posters falling off the walls, the single stack of books at the front, the different colored hair-ties, perhaps to distinguish different learning groups... it’s a well-observed moment and would make for the start of a fascinating series on educational practices around the world. (Life Framer)

“In a girls' school in India. This school is something big for these girls as they have access to education which is not so common in the rural areas. Here they learn principles like women’s emancipation which is a big deal in a country like India.”

Winning image © Astrid Piethan

Website / Instagram

With simple framing, Astrid captures a wry and idiosyncratic moment. Is it a game of hide and seek? Or perhaps the child is rummaging for something lost? Like children using their imaginations to invent something from nothing, we’ll have to concoct our
version of the events leading into, and after, the moment of this amusing image. (Life Framer)

Winning image © Kristof Vadino

Website / Instagram

In this stunning portrait of a young Kenya herder, we see her survey something beyond Kristof with apprehension, cradling the kid protectively. In his statement Kristof describes the increasingly severe droughts that that threaten these herders’ livelihoods, and that symbiotic relationship is apparent here. He employs black and white to boil the scene down to its raw elements – girl, goat and foreboding sky which accentuates the adversity her people face, particularly acute for the next generation this girl embodies. (Life Framer)

“Turkana, Kenya. Semi-nomadic herdsmen face every year more and more severe droughts due to climate change. What is the future of these youth?”

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