There were over 140,000 entries to the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards, so it is a comprehensive world survey of what is going on in photography today and close to a miracle to make the shortlist for the competition! I’ve selected a variety of the shortlisted winners from the professional competition whose work is exceptional for review and analysis.
Hao Li’s “Duplicate Mechanism” series uses the multiple exposure capability of digital cameras to create layer on layer of slight momentary and location deviations. The spaces where the photographs are made are common public sites and the result is a unique portrait of frenzied contemporary life.
Above we are presented a vision of railways and trains passing from above with the camera just slightly moved between exposures and the subject itself is constantly moving. These images are of spatial surfaces layered as moments in time – each separated by fractions of a second or fractions of a viewpoint difference. In a previous exhibit at TIVAC 2013 the photographer described these images as being about the repetition of daily urban life, with each day being just slightly – a fraction – different than the previous day.
He also changes up the scale, so we are provided with the grand scale of trainway and a skyscraper…
contrasted with a child’s viewpoint at a supermarket….
These images are distressing, vibrating captures of what it can feel like to be bombarded with many different sources of visual stimuli. They simulate what a consumer might feel as they stroll down a supermarket aisle, but the the images also create a fascinating pattern of intersecting delicate lines and rectangles overlapped with amorphous human forms. The humans seem like a footnote in the frenetic environment they helped create.
Wedding ceremonies are certainly a window into a culture’s values and customs and Glenna Gordon’s entry series “Nigeria Ever After” provides a unique insight into that country’s wedding traditions framed in contemporary practices and technology. Gordon (2014) says the the images are “about what it costs to get married in Nigeria: what money can and can’t buy and the quiet moments during frenzied ceremony.”
Each family puts on as lavish a ceremony as possible, since the wedding itself is an indication of status (Gordon, 2014).
In addition to the traditions of the groom and groomsmen prostrating themselves on the ground in front of the bride’s parent, guests will “spray” the couple with cash as they dance through the night. Bridesmaids collect the cash quickly. Gordon’s images provided a behind-the-scenes view of a Nigerian wedding in which we see the guests and the couple interacting rather than posing. Consequently her work takes a stronger documentary direction, because her images are a study of the ceremony, rather than a series of images meant to be consumed by the couple. For example, if we compare her work with a Nigerian commercial wedding photographer, such as Akara Ogheneworo…
…we can see how this polished and highly controlled depiction of the bridal couple is a world apart from Gordon’s rather poignant portrait of the bride and groom greeting guests…
Gordon captures a moment that is as much about that slice of reality as it is about relationships between male and female or gender roles. In this image the men are speaking – they are the featured personages discussing something of importance – while the women both look away, their thoughts elsewhere. Even though the moment is about the men, Gordon has framed the images so that the dominant presence is that of the bride – her white dress stands out and the symmetry of the background leads to her figure. Yet her expression is neither that of joy or preoccupation, but rather one of acceptance, that of playing the role that she was meant to play…and she does not seem too impressed! Gordon’s exposure and framing take what was in all likelihood a gaudily decorated affair and transforms it into a fantasy of sparkling lights and waves of lavender. It is the perfect image to match Gordon’s title for the series: Nigeria Ever After. To see more photographs by Glenna Gordon, visit her website at http://www.glennagordon.com/
The landscape tells a story. As photographers sometimes we choose to ignore the story and focus on the surface – choosing to only see the spectacle of “sublime nature“, but Roei Greenberg combines the two perspectives by creating images that use the accepted structure of the landscape photograph to portray the land as a witness to conflict. For example, the image of the Golan Heights, uses a conventional landscape photography technique – the tension between the visual pull of the foreground and background – to feature a pristine meadow broken by the rusted barbed wire fence posts. In the background, hazily, we can see the Syrian side of the land. Despite being an area of intense conflict in the past, this is a tranquil scene in which the barbed wire lazily loops across the flowered meadow and the Star of David hangs precariously off a reinforced post. The image seems to make the past irrelevant…the weeds have physically and metaphorically overgrown this political symbol.
In “Trail at Ein Zetim”, an overgrown trail is all the is left of the Arab village that once occupied the land. Greenberg’s approach is to contrast the convention of landscape – to present us with otherwise unremarkable images that might be postcards – with simple statements of fact that describe a partial history of the land. He combines the actual state of the land with a history that might extend 50 years back in time. This brings up an uncomfortable fact for photographers seeking to image a “pristine nature”, since the reality is that all of nature is in a constant state of transformation, it is not on the human timetable.
I understand that the landscape as a medium needs to be treated carefully and with respect. I believe that it is filled and shaped by ideology. I seek to capture photographs that have double meanings where objects are symbols and places always have a history that charge them with more than the eye can see. (Greenberg, 2014)
Greenberg’s contextualization of the landscape with words creates a powerful viewpoint that gives the images another dimension that is political and human. They tell the story of the land, and although they are not visible in any of his images, the main protagonists in the story are the humans whose ideology, religion, and political values have had a transformative impact. To see more work by Roei Greenberg, visit his website at http://www.roeigreenbergphotography.com/
Gordon, Glenna. (2014). Nigeria Ever After. Retrieved 2/15/2014, 2014, from http://www.glennagordon.com/#/nigeria-ever-after
Greenberg, Roei. (2014). Biography. Roei Greenberg Photography. Retrieved 2/15/2014, 2014, from http://www.roeigreenbergphotography.com/