Winners of Sony World Photography Awards 2020

We’ve covered quite a few Sony World Photography competitions in the past 5 months. From the Open Competition, to National Award Winners, and recent Finalist and Shortlisted photographs, creators from all over the world have been recognized for their takes on pertinent issues. The World Photography Organisation concluded these competitions with their announcement of the Overall Professional, Open, Student, and Youth winners for 2020.

‘This year’s winner comes from the Creative category and is a brilliant set of images which offers a powerful visual record of how deforestation goes hand in hand with the destruction of communities and peoples…Pablo is from Uruguay and this project is deeply personal to him as a photographer. The effort required to envisage, produce and shoot this series is laudable in every way,’ says Mike Trow, Chair of the Professional competition.

The Photographer of the Year title, and $25,000 cash prize, was awarded to Pablo Albarenga for his series titled Seeds of Resistance. It explores the bond between defenders and their land, along with the consequences of protecting it. Tod Oldham’s Open Photographer of the Year image of musician Black Francis was previously covered by DPReview. Ioanna Sakellaraki won Student Photographer of the Year for her series on environmental sustainability while Hsein-Pang Hseih was recognized as Youth Photographer of the Year for his capture of a harried street performer.

We’ve featured the winning images from each category in this slideshow. All of this year’s winning and shortlisted images can be viewed here. Professional, Open, Student, and Youth competitions for 2021 will be open for submissions on July 1st and are free to enter.

Photographer of the Year and Latin America Professional Award Winner: ‘Seeds of Resistance 3’ by Pablo Albarenga (Uruguay)

About this Photo: Nantu is an indigenous young man from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador who leads a project of solar-powered river boats for collective transport. By installing solar panels on a specially designed boat’s roof, he is working to end Achuar’s dependence on petrol. Left: On his land, Nantu lies dressed in traditional Achuar clothing. Right: the pristine rainforest from the Achuar territory. Sharamentsa, Pastaza, Ecuador.

About this Series: Seeds of Resistance is a body of work that pairs photographs of landscapes and territories in danger from mining and agribusinesses with portraits of the activists fighting to conserve them. Pablo explores the bond between the defenders and their lands – a sacred area in which hundreds of generations of their ancestors rest. In the photographs, the main characters in the stories are seen from above, as though they are laying down their lives for their territory. View the full series here.

Student Photographer of the Year: ‘Aeiforia’ by Ioanna Sakellaraki (Greece)

About this Series: Aeiforia presents night-time photographs of solar panels, wind turbines and battery farms used across the small island of Tilos in Greece which is the first in the Mediterranean to run almost entirely on renewable energy. View it, in its entirety, here.

In an era of climate change and challenges around sustainability, islands are particularly vulnerable. Insular by their very nature, these land masses usually depend on fossil fuels and imports for energy (despite the high transportation costs). Until a few years ago, the idea of an island being fully reliant on clean energy was almost unthinkable, and yet it is about to become a reality on Tilos in Greece.

This tiny island in the Dodecanese archipelago is the first in the Mediterranean to run almost entirely on renewable energy. Over the years it has received energy from a diesel power plant on the neighboring island of Kos, via an undersea cable, but during the tourist season this has proven unreliable, leading to frequent power cuts. Since 2015, however, the supply on Tilos has been reinforced with a hybrid system exclusively powered by renewable sources including solar and wind power.

These images were taken in the island’s capital, Megálo Chorió, which is home to just 70 people during the winter. At night the passageways, rooftops and yards are illuminated by moonlight, presenting plenty of opportunities for photography. The islanders use various solar panels and energy devices including some handmade versions. The aim is to keep these running for as long as possible to help sustain households throughout the winter.

My series looks at how these strangely-shaped devices and wires become an organic part of the scenery at night. As darkness falls, a harmonic symbiosis exists between this technology and the dry and mountainous landscape of Tilos. Aeiforia is a Greek word for defining progress based on the use of natural ecosystems and energy sources to ensure future resources.

Youth Photographer of the Year: ‘Hurry’ by Hsien-Pang Hsieh (Taiwan)

About this Photo: Hurry, features a street performer who is seemingly walking in a hurry but is in fact standing still. Inspired by his experience as a newly arrived student in Germany, Hsien-Pang sees the image as his comment on the intensive pace of life and a reminder others to slow down.

This image was taken shortly after I came to Germany to study. It was the first time I had travelled abroad alone, and I felt under enormous pressure. There were so many things to learn at school, and I was also trying to fit in with everyone else.

Although this man looks as though he’s in a rush to get to work, he’s actually standing still – and it’s this dichotomy that appealed to me. These days, with life moving at such a frantic pace, it’s important for people to slow down. When I’m facing challenges I look at this picture and it reminds me to take a moment and just breathe.

Category Winner, Professional, Architecture: ‘Ice Fishing Hut XV’ by Sandra Herber (Canada)

About this Photo/Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Discovery: ‘Motherhood’ by Maria Kokunova (Russian Federation)

About this Photo/Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Documentary: ‘Wounds of Hong Kong 7’ by Chung Ming Ko (Hong Kong)

About this Photo: Chu, a 17-year-old Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (DSE) student, was hit by a police baton while taking part in a human chain at Tai Po Station, Hong Kong, on 7 September 2019. He was seen lying in his own blood on cable TV. Chu’s head needed stitches and the phalanx of the little finger on his right hand was broken, requiring six bone screws. He has decided to postpone his DSE for a year in order to tackle his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

About the Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Environment: ’85 Trader, a Local Policeman in Ughelli, Niger Delta, Nigeria’ by Robin Hinsch (Germany)

About this Photo/Series: 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 neutralize 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Landscape: ‘Torii Einootsurugi’ by Ronny Behnert (Germany)

About this Photo: Einootsurugi was one of the torii which was totally hidden. It was difficult to find that amazing spot but after a few hours of searching and exploring I found the torii. The special feature here was the symmetrical arrangement through the two lamps in the foreground. I spent more than three hours at this spot because of the spiritual atmosphere at this place!

About this Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Natural World & Wildlife: ‘Pangolins in Crisis 1’ by Brent Stirton (South Africa)

About this Photo: A Temminck’s Pangolin learns to forage again after being rescued from traffickers on the Zimbabwe/South Africa border. Pangolin caregivers at this anonymous farm care for rescued, illegally trafficked pangolins, helping them to find ants and termites to eat and keeping them safe from predators and poachers.

This is one of only three true Pangolin rescue and rehabilitation sites in the world. Pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked mammals, with an estimated one million being trafficked to Asia in the last ten year. Their scales are used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine and their meat is sold as a high-priced delicacy. As a result, pangolins are listed as critically endangered and all trade or consumption is illegal.

The Tiki Hywood trust undertakes public awareness campaigns on Pangolins, trains law enforcement and judiciary personnel, conducts research, and rehabilitates pangolins that have been confiscated from the illegal trade. They are based in Zimbabwe but operate with partners across Africa and Asia.

About this Series: Pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked mammals, with an estimated one million trafficked to Asia in the last ten years. Their scales are used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine, and their meat is sold as a high-priced delicacy. As a result, pangolins are listed as critically endangered and anyone who trades or consumes them is breaking the law.

This body of work exposes the trade, while exploring aspects of illegality and celebrating the people who are trying to save these animals. There are only three true Pangolin rescue and rehabilitation sites in the world, they are extremely fragile animals and the vast majority die quickly in captivity.

Category Winner, Professional, Portraiture: ‘Malick. Gambia. (1998)’ by Cesar Dezfuli (Spain)

About this Photo: LEFT: Malick portrayed on 1st August 2016 on board of a rescue vessel in the Mediterranean sea. RIGHT: Malick portrayed on 26th June 2019 in Italy, where he currently lives.

About this Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Sport: ‘Senegalese Wrestlers 3’ by Ángel López Soto (Spain)

About this Photo/Series: 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.

Category Winner, Professional, Still Life: ‘Immortality 10’ by Alessandro Gandolfi (Italy)

About this Photo: Tokyo (Japan), Miraikan, The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation: a close-up of Alter, a robot on display at the museum. Some believe that the in the future, it will be possible to completely ‘download’ our minds into humanoids similar to this one, and therefore, by overcoming the physical limits imposed by the human body, it will be possible to live forever.

About this Series: ‘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 hybridization 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.

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