This year’s Graduate Series award went to Jan McCullough for her series Home Instruction Manual, while the Graduate Single Image award went to Piotr Karpinski for his image titled Woman in the Church No.1.
Simone Sapienza is the winner of the Undergraduate Series award for his project Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers, while Daragh Soden won the Single Image award for an image from his series Young Dubliners.
The exhibition will open at Shop 13, Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR on Thursday 23rd June 2016, 6-9pm. Rsvp@bjphoto.co.uk
Jan McCullough – Graduate Series
“I like using a camera to try different lives on for size,” says Jan McCullough, and her multi award-winning series, Home Instruction Manual, is a good case in point. The title is inspired by How to Make the Home You Want, a 1950s handbook for military wives, which the Northern Ireland-born photographer found in a second-hand bookshop.
“Complete with intricately detailed drawings, it sets out exacting rules on how one’s personal space should be arranged and encouraged McCullough to find other similarly didactic how-to guides, including online chat forums, where strangers exchange tips. She then rented an unremarkable suburban house for two months, lived in it, decorated it according to her advisors, and photographed the results.
McCullough obtained a BA in photography at Belfast School of Art, graduating in 2013, but adopted a deliberately amateurish aesthetic when photographing her crowd-sourced home décor. “I wanted an amateur feel to the photographs, so they looked the same as the photographs many people might take in their own homes,” she says.
Putting the project together as a book dummy, McCullough won instant success at the prestigious Kassel Fotobookfestival.
The series has gone on to be exhibited at Sean Fifteen Gallery, Belfast Exposed and Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam; a group show at the world-class Landskrona Museum in Sweden is planned for this year. It requires many more skills than just photo-making, but McCullough is taking it in her stride.
“All our tutors [on her BA] were very active in making their own work alongside teaching – we saw them publish books, organise exhibitions and saw first hand just how many roles you have to adopt to do these things,” she says. “It was the best way to learn.”
Karen McQuaid, curator at The Photographers’ Gallery and one of the Breakthrough judges, said of McCullough’s work: “The series felt very much considered as a whole. The form of the photography, as well as the form of the captioning, felt like a coherent whole. A lot of work had obviously gone into the series before any photographs were taken.
“The fact that she rented this empty shell of a home gives the photographs a strange tone. It’s like she’s taken a carcass of a house and photographed a living performance in there, which stands at odds against the comfort and cosiness one might expect from the title.”
Simone Sapienza – Undergraduate Series
“I’m interested in a certain kind of documentary photography that leaves the author free to symbolise and reinterpret facts, ideas or even realities,” says Simone Sapienza, winner of the Undergraduate Series award.
“I don’t trust photographers who erect themselves as bearers of truth, and I don’t trust editors, or curators, or lecturers who try to confine you within certain, comfortable borders. I’m not only speaking about spot news; in general, I believe that photojournalism and documentary photography have the ability to enlarge their borders, with such a huge potential to engage new viewers.”
It’s a bold statement of intent, but it’s borne out in his series Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers, which he shot in Vietnam. The Sicilian photographer was curious about the Vietnam that exists beyond its infamous history and beyond the picture-perfect tourist brochures; on visiting, he found himself shooting two separate but interconnected projects – United States of Vietnam, a look at the free market in action in the country, and Lotus Flowers, which looks at “the order and control by their political power, the one-party Communist government.”
“It is pictured with a free and personal style, using metaphors, suggestions and even different visual language in the same body of work,” explains Sapienza.
The BA degree in documentary photography at the University of South Wales has a reputation for producing outstanding students, and this year both undergraduate winners in the BJP Breakthrough competition come from it.
Breakthrough judge Liv Siddall, the editor of Rough Trade, said of Sapienza’s work: “This is one of the only series we saw where every image was strong in its own right. A lot of confidence came through – in the concept, in the edit, in the composition of the shots, and in the eye for detail within the reportage of a country going through a radical transition. There was an awful lot of personality in there; it didn’t just concern itself with taking beautiful shots.”
Piotr Karpinski – Graduate Single Image
Piotr Karpinski, originally from Poland, settled in the UK in 2006. He achieved an A level in photography at Farnborough College of Technology in 2010, then a BA in photography at Middlesex University in 2015 – in the process, his graduation work was selected for The Catlin Guide 2015 New Artists in the UK, and included in Creative Review’s Photography Annual 2015.
From 2012-13 he was first assistant to rising fashion photographer Paulina Otylie Surys, who is known for her dark take on life, death and sex. His prize-winning image takes a similarly brooding tack – shot in a church, it’s taken from a wider series titled Let’s Talk About Life & Death Darling.
“The thoughts behind this photograph are my fears and concerns related to existence and its ending,” says Karpinski. “I tend to depict my state of mind when creating a picture, and I think of death extensively. Watching Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal years before creating this photograph gave me some inspiration of how I could execute bringing this portraiture to life.”
The image looks spontaneous but, says Karpinski, it was actually carefully planned – about 80 percent painstakingly set up and 20 percent taken off-the-cuff. “I had a clear idea of how my photograph should look, and what it would be about,” he says. “Then I just made it happen.”
Dean Chalkley, award-winning photographer and filmmaker, said of Karpinski’s winning image: “For me, there was an immediate ambiguity to this picture. Given the shadowing and composition, it would be easy to think this picture might have been taken by mistake.
“It’s not a classic portrait, but what I love about this picture is that it feels like a highly crafted portrait, taken in a highly spontaneous way, that thumbs its nose a little at traditional rules of portraiture. It works brilliantly, because you’re forced into eye contact, which triggers a lot of emotion. It forces you to make up your mind about what the picture means.”
Daragh Soden – Undergraduate Single Image
Daragh Soden won the Undergraduate Single Image award with a shot taken from a much wider project, Young Dubliners, a series of images through which he tries to convey something he experienced growing up, and also “something about the times [the subjects] are growing up in now – a time of recession and austerity”.
Despite Soden’s knowledge of the city, Young Dubliners features shots of people he doesn’t know, and his winning image was caught off-the-cuff on the bus. “I had just finished a long day shooting Young Dubliners and was catching the bus home,” he says.
“When I got to the top of the stairs, I looked down the aisle and spotted this young couple chilling at the back. I sat a few seats ahead of them for a while, my nerves bubbling about in my belly.
“Eventually, I plucked up the courage to turn around to ask for a photograph. They were cool about it and just stared out the window as if I wasn’t there while I wobbled about trying to focus as the bus swung round corners. I didn’t see the photograph until a few months later, when I developed the film at university.
“Every portrait is posed, in some way or another, and this one is no different,” he adds. “With this work I tried to empower the young people I photographed. The series of pictures presents young Dubliners presenting themselves, in their own environments.”
Bruno Bayley, european managing editor of Vice UK, said of the image: “It’s a very tender picture. There’s a lovely dynamic between the two people in the picture, and there’s a timelessness to it; it’s difficult to place where and when the picture was taken. Young people get a lot of flak these days, but the image felt warm and celebratory and uplifting.”
The four winners will have their work printed by London pro-lab theprintspace and exhibited at The Old Truman Brewery in east London as part of the Free Range graduate shows. The winners will also see their work published in BJP’s acclaimed monthly magazine and across its online social channels, reaching over a million creatives worldwide. The images will be showcased globally on WeTransfer, which has over 80 million visitors a month.
For more details of BJP Breakthrough visit: bjpbreakthrough.com
This year’s entries were judged by a panel of industry experts, including:
Simon Bainbridge, editorial director, British Journal of Photography
Bruno Bayley, european managing editor, Vice UK
Dean Chalkley, award-winning photographer and filmmaker
Jamie Mcintyre, art director, It’s Nice That
Karen McQuaid, curator, The Photographers’ Gallery
Gemma Padley, projects editor, British Journal of Photography
Liv Siddall, editor, Rough Trade