The World Photography Organisation is delighted to announce the overall winners in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards 2021. The Photographer of the Year title and accompanying $25,000 (USD) cash prize and a range of Sony’s digital imaging kit is awarded to the esteemed documentarian Craig Easton (United Kingdom) for his series Bank Top. Also announced are the ten category winners alongside 2nd and 3rd place of the Professional competition as well as overall winners of the Open, Student and Youth competitions.
Photographer of the Year
Craig Easton is an international multi award-winning photographer whose work is deeply rooted in the documentary tradition. He shoots long-term documentary projects exploring issues around social policy, identity and a sense of place. His work mixes portraiture, landscape and reportage approaches to storytelling, often working collaboratively with others to incorporate words, pictures and audio in a research-based practice that weaves a narrative between contemporary experience and history.
© Craig Easton, United Kingdom, Finalist, Professional, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2021, Mohammed Afzal, the Birdman of Bank Top, Blackburn, 2020.
The cover image shows three pictures from Craig Easton’ s series Bank Top.
Bank Top, a collaboration with writer and academic Abdul Aziz Hafiz, examines the representation and misrepresentation of communities in northern England, and focuses on a tight-knit neighbourhood in Blackburn. Craig Easton notes that Blackburn has become synonymous with the use of words such as segregation (BBC Panorama) and integration (The Casey Review) by the media and policy makers – terms which he believes are too simplistic to explain the challenges faced by such neighbourhoods and towns. His aim with Bank Top is to confront what he sees as dominant discourses in the media which fail to acknowledge the historical legacy and social costs of industrial expansion and colonialism. This long-form collaboration uses the stories and experiences in Bank Top to address wider issues around social deprivation, housing, unemployment, immigration and representation, as well as the impact of past and present foreign policy.
Winners are revealed in a celebratory announcement video hosted by CEO of the World Photography Organisation Scott Gray and TV and radio presenter and author Konnie Huq. The video features interviews, behind-the-scenes clips and reactions from winning photographers and is available to view via worldphoto.org/ceremony-2021
Also unveiled today is a virtual exhibition of winning and finalists’ work; A Year in Photos from the Sony World Photography Awards 2021, a specially commissioned documentary feature hosted by art historian Jacky Klein and entertainer Nish Kumar; and a free digital copy of the Sony World Photography 2021 book all available to view and download via worldphoto.org/announcement-2021
Bank Top, a collaboration with writer and academic Abdul Aziz Hafiz, examines the representation and misrepresentation of communities in northern England, focusing on the tightknit neighbourhood of Bank Top in Blackburn. The project forms part of Easton’s wider work in the region including Thatcher’s Children (2nd place, Documentary Projects, 2021 Professional competition,), an investigation into the chronic nature of poverty as experienced by three generations of one family; and Sixteen (shortlisted in the Portraiture category of the 2017 Awards), a look into the dreams, aspirations and fears of 16 year-olds from all walks of life.
Bank Top is a result of the Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery initiative Kick Down the Barriers, a project instigated in response to media reports portraying the town as the ‘the most segregated in Britain’. Seeking to challenge this narrative, the museum invited artists and writers to collaborate with residents of various neighbourhoods and create a robust and authentic representation of their communities.
Over the course of a year Easton and Hafiz worked closely with local inhabitants to explore their stories and experiences through a series of black & white portraits and accompanying texts. These highlight issues around social deprivation, housing, unemployment, immigration and representation, as well as the impact of past and present foreign policy. Their work counters simplistic generalisations and aims to provide context as to how these communities came together and a better understanding of how they thrive together now.
Mike Trow, Chair of the 2021 Professional competition says: “What is so impressive about this project is the intent, dedication and understanding Craig brings to it. He has worked closely with the writer Abdul Aziz Hafiz to create a complete piece, tacitly acknowledging that for a project as sensitive as this words matter. These are not people who necessarily asked to be photographed but Craig gained their trust. They look frankly to camera and we see a mutual understanding between documenter and subject. It is the moral weight behind this work that makes it so important and deserving of this prize.”
Commenting on his win Easton says: “I am delighted to have this work recognised by the Sony World Photography Awards. I photograph to learn, to try to understand and to document and share stories. It is a privilege to be able to do so and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes – something that is especially important to me. To have these stories from underrepresented or misrepresented communities in northern England where I live recognised and shared worldwide is wonderful. Thank you.”
PROFESSIONAL CATEGORY WINNERS
Winning photographers in the Professional competition have been selected by a panel of expert judges for submitting an outstanding body of work of five to ten images, ranging from stories of local importance to issues of global significance, quiet moments of resilience to creative brilliance and playfulness. All category winners receive Sony’s digital imaging kit.
OPEN PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
The Open competition celebrates the power of single images. Winning photographs are selected for their ability to communicate a remarkable visual narrative combined with technical excellence. Chosen from ten Open category winners, Tamary Kudita (Zimbabwe) is Open Photographer of the Year 2021 and the recipient of the $5,000 (USD) cash prize, Sony’s digital imaging equipment and global exposure.
Kudita won for her outstanding portrait African Victorian submitted to the Creative category. The photograph depicts a young black woman dressed in a Victorian dress and holding traditional Shona cooking utensils. The image probes at stereotypical contextualising of the black female body and offers an alternative visual language through which a multifaceted African identity is presented.
Speaking of her win Kudita says: ‘African Victorian pays tribute to the contemporary being who is also rooted in history. I am deeply honoured to have been chosen as the winner of the Open competition. This award is a testament to the role we play as creators in shaping visual culture. A central notion in my work is the importance of African representation and I am thankful to have received the opportunity to put Zimbabwean art on the map.’
STUDENT PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
Coenraad Heinz Torlage (South Africa) of the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography has been awarded Student Photographer of the Year 2021, winning €30,000 worth of Sony photography equipment for his institution. Torlage was chosen for his series Young Farmers, created in response to the brief Our Time which asked students to depict the way they and their contemporaries see the world and how they plan to change it for the better. In Young Farmers Torlage, who grew up on a farm himself, set out to photograph the next generation of farmers as they face challenges concerning severe droughts, safety and debates around land ownership alongside their contributions towards a fairer and more equitable future of sustainability and food security.
Commenting on his win Torlage says: “I have been through an experience that is almost impossible to describe. I often dreamt of winning and prayed that I could share my country and the amazing people in it with the world. I believe in the young farmers of South Africa which this country needs in terms of food sustainability and ecological awareness. Winning is a dream made possible by the amazing people that I photographed and everyone who helped and supported me. I believe in hard work, family and most of all the grace of God. I am truly humbled that my images could even be considered for such a prestigious competition."
YOUTH PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
Selected from six category winners, Pubarun Basu (India, 19 years-old) has won Youth Photographer of the Year 2021for his image No Escape from Reality. In the photograph the shadows of railings projected onto curtains create the illusion of cage bars from behind which a pair of hands is seen as if trying to break through. The illusion of shadows and hands gesture convey a sense of entrapment shared by so many across the world this past year. For his win Basu receives Sony’s digital imaging kit and global exposure.
Commenting on his win Basu says: “I am incredibly humbled to have been announced as the Youth Photographer of the Year. Participating in this competition has given me a fresh perspective on my art. I have seen some extraordinary photographs by my fellow youth photographers from around the world, and I take immense pride in the fact that my generation has such brilliant minds. I aspire to improve myself as an artist and would like to express my gratitude to my friends and family for always encouraging me to go the extra mile.”
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO PHOTOGRAPHY
This year’s Outstanding Contribution to Photography has been awarded to the acclaimed Mexican photographic artist Graciela Iturbide. Widely recognised as Latin America’s greatest living photographer, Iturbide’s work offers a photographic account of Mexico since the late 1970s and is celebrated for its defining contribution to the country’s visual identity. In images of everyday life and its culture alongside those of ritual and religion, Iturbide’s work explores her country’s many complexities and contradictions, questioning its inequalities and highlighting the tensions between the urban and rural, modern and indigenous. Her photographs go beyond straight documentary narratives and aim to provide a poetic vision of their subjects informed by the photographer’s personal experiences and journey.