With over 2000 submissions from 92 countries, this year’s Felix Schoeller Photo Award was the biggest and most international yet. The quality of entries was unprecedented and the winning photographers represent some of the best contemporary photographic talent.
Over the weekend, British Journal of Photography attended the Awards Ceremony in Osnabrück, Germany, the hometown of the Felix Schoeller Group, where members of the jury – Michael Dannenmann, Gérard A. Goodrow, Simone Klein, Clara Maria Sels and Julia Sorgel – announced this year’s winners. Presented in an exhibition at the Museum of Cultural History, both the winning photographs and the work of the 24 other nominees will be on show until the 25th of February.
“Felix Schoeller has a long legacy in supporting photography with their history of creating photographic paper. They have succeeded at creating an award that champions the highest quality of photography on an international scale. They are an extremely positive and important force in the world of contemporary photography,” said Clara Maria Sels.
Now in its third instalment, the bi-annual Felix Schoeller Photo Award was “born out of the company’s passion for photography and commitment to supporting photographers,” remembers Dr. Bernard Klofat, Felix Schoeller’s CEO. With this year’s award attracting twice the number of submissions than the previous addition, and entrants from all around the world, it is fast becoming an established name among both professional and emerging photographers internationally.
Despite the increased number of entrants “the quality and creativity was still very high in all of the categories, which made the judging process very fruitful and interesting work for us all” said Simon Klein, Global Director of Print Sales at Magnum Photos. “The competition was conceived as a way of promoting photography and providing a platform for photographers from around the world to present projects exploring themes close to their hearts” observed head of the judging panel, Micheal Dannenemann. With nominees from 11 nations and an array of projects and photographic styles, the award has undoubtedly achieved this aim.
Artist and filmmaker Matt Hulse received the Gold Award for his provocative series Sniper, which also won in the Conceptual & Free Choice category. “It’s such an amazing award to win and has given me such confidence in my work,” he said. Documenting isolated strangers from the top of tall buildings using a cheap mobile phone and nine dollar telescopic lens, the series raises questions around both the photographic medium and, more broadly, issues of surveillance, privacy and terrorism in contemporary life.
Winning a huge share of the popular vote, Brazilian photographer Guilherme Bergamini was awarded the People’s Choice Award, a new category for which British Journal of Photography offered the public an opportunity to select their own winner. His selected series Education for All, offers a poignant documentation of the broken education system in Bergamini’s home country. “I have been reading British Journal of Photography for 20 years; it is such an honour to have my work recognised by this publication, the Felix Schoeller Photo Award and general public. I hope that winning will mean my work reaches an even wider audience to draw attention to the pressing issues that it addresses,” he said.
The five remaining category winners – Portraiture, Landscape, Architecture, Photojournalism and Best Emerging Photographer – listed below, showcase both the quality of photography and the unique manner in which each winner interpreted the theme.
Architecture & Industry
Documenting an iconic emblem of American social life, these Hopper-esque stills are both a comment on the country’s absurd consumer culture and visually arresting photographs in their own right.
These images “strike a fascinating balance between the banalities of everyday life and scenes reminiscent of movie sets,” observed Gérard A. Goodrow. “Here, the compositions show formal perfection in every respect – not least in the photographer’s management of light and the fine, complementary contrasts in the subtle interplay of red and green,” said Simone Klein.
Brand is currently beginning work on a new project documenting a hotel run by a Kurdish couple struggling to keep their business alive. “I am so excited to have won. The Felix Schoeller Photo Award is very well-recognised now and the prize will enable me to begin work on this upcoming series.”
Photojournalism & Editorial Photography
Belgian photojournalist Alain Schroeder received the Photojournalism and Editorial Award for Living for Death: his stirring documentation of rituals surrounding death and the dead in Toraja, Indonesia.
“When I started photography 45 years ago, I was using Felix Schoeller paper without even knowing it, so it is very exciting to win the Photo Award,” said Schroeder.
In this region, after a person dies it can take weeks, months or even years for a family to organize the funeral and during this time the deceased are considered ‘sick’ and kept at home, either uncovered, bundled in layers of cloth or in a coffin. Schroeder’s photographs capture the realities of this process: offering a sensitive and considered insight into an alternative way of dealing with a universal human experience.
“His sensitively captured black-and-white images help the viewer to come to terms with this, at first, alien aspect of life and death. This is precisely the impact good photojournalism must have on those who see it,” commented Michael Dannenmann.
Landscape & Nature
“It’s such an amazing prize and will enable me to continue working on this ongoing series,” said Boelsums.
Reminiscent of classical Dutch landscape painting, the striking vistas photographed by Boelsum take on a new meaning in this work. With dramatic cloud formations and violent seascapes, the series captures the increasingly visible consequences of climate change.
“These images present idealised scenes of a world that may one day be lost to us forever; perhaps they will be the views we see hanging as pictures in our residential bunkers of the future,” said Clara Maria Sels.
Best Work by an Emerging Photographer
Growing up in Syria and beginning photography aged 17 with the advent of the Syrian revolution, Hosam’s documentation of the ensuing conflict offers a unique perspective on the war. Consisting of photographs taken between 2014 and 2015 in Hosam’s hometown of Eastern Aleppo, the series is a testament to the resilience, bravery and ingenuity of the residents who have remained in the city since the start of the civil war.
“The photographer is not an impartial observer; you notice that he’s at the heart of the action. He’s one of them. With the eyes of an insider, Hosam Katan reveals entirely new perspectives. The chaos is held together in formal terms by a stringency and clarity of composition that ingeniously unites elements of street photography and classical photojournalism,” commented the jury.
Speaking about his motivations for making the work, Hosam said, “you want to show the horror of the war and in doing so work to incite justice. I hope winning the award will bring my photographs to a wider audience, further raising awareness about the realities of the Syrian War”.
Argentinian photographer Rodrigo Illescas was awarded the Portrait Award for his project Are You There?
Employing an aesthetic reminiscent of movie sets, Illescas’ series subverts the classic definition of portraiture. Through windows, Illescas guides our gaze into the private worlds of strangers. Intimate and unnerving, the project speaks of the chronic condition of loneliness that permeates the modern world.
“These images are like the first sentence of a book that makes me want to find out where the story will lead me. The subjects of these portraits appear to be alone, but could well be in dialogue with another, unseen, person in the room,” observed Julia Sorgel.
Also a poet, Illescas spoke about how he created these images as a visual expression of something he had written, “it is such an incredible honour to have my work recognised by this award,” he said.
Sponsored by Felix Schoeller Group: This feature was made possible with the support of Felix Schoeller Group, a world leader in photographic paper since 1895. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.