Federico Borella wins Photographer of the Year

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Federico Borella has been named Photographer of the Year at the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards, winning the $25,000 prize for his series Five Degrees – a look at male suicide in the farming community of Tamil Nadu, southern India, which is facing its worst drought in 140 years. The Italian photographer’s work takes its lead from a Berkeley University study, which found a correlation between climate change and increased suicide rates among Indian farmers, and explores the impact of both via images of the farming landscape, mementoes of the farmers, and portraits of their survivors.

“As global warming changes the face of life ever more rapidly – particularly in developing and underdeveloped nations – the work of artists such as Borella becomes ever more needed,” commented Mike Trow, chair of the professional jury. He added that this year’s submissions “provoked a lot of debate and interest amongst the jury” with works “pushing the boundaries of photography and challenging the perceptions and expectations the audience”. 

India, Tamil Nadu, May 2018. Rasathi, 56, the wife of Selvarasy, 65, a farmer who committed suicide on May 2017 by hanging himself in his field. He got into debt with a Cooperative Society. According to a study carried out by Tamma A. Carleton, the warming over the last 30 years is responsible for 59,300 suicides in India. She estimates that fluctuations in climate, particularly temperature, significantly influence suicide rates. © Federico Borella, Italy, Shortlist, Professional, Documentary, 2019 Sony World Photography Awards

The Sony World Photography Awards are divided into four categories – professional, student, youth, and open – which this year received over 326,000 submissions from 195 countries and territories. In total ten winners were picked out in the professional categories, with Borella winning the Documentary category with his project.

The Architecture prize was taken by Stephan Zirwes, Germany for his series Cut Outs – Pools 2018; Rebecca Fertinel, Belgium won the Brief category for her series Ubuntu – I Am Because We Are. Marinka Massaus, Netherlands, won the Creative category for the series Chosen [not] to be; the Discovery prize was taken by Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni, Italy for the series Güle Güle. Yan Wang Preston, UK won the Landscape prize with the series To the South of the Colourful Clouds.

Jasper Doest, Netherlands, won the Natural World & Wildlife category with his series Meet Bob; Alvaro Laiz, Spain, won the Portraiture category with his series The Edge. Alessandro Grassini, Italy, won the Sport category with the series Boxing Against Violence: The Female Boxers Of Goma; and Nicolas Gaspardel & Pauline Baert, France, won the Still Life category with the series Yuck.

This series is part of the Radical Beauty project, an international photography project which aims to give people with Down’s syndrome their rightful place in the visual arts. ‘Chosen [not ]to be’ reflects on the reality of people with Down’s Syndrome – the barriers they face, society’s refusal to see their capabilities, the invisibility of their true selves – and translates their experiences visually. With much love and respect to Juliette, Margot, Emma, Eveline and Tessel. Image © Marinka Massus (Netherlands), Professional Creative

Under the chair Mike Trow, the 2019 Professional competition was judged by: Erin Barnett, director of exhibitions and collections at the International Center of Photography in the US; Brendan Embser, managing editor of Aperture; Emma Lewis, judge and assistant curator at Tate; Liu Heung Shing, founder of the Shanghai Center of Photography; and Isabella van Marle, head of artist & gallery relations at Unseen Amsterdam.

Nadav Kander was awarded the 2019 Outstanding Contribution to Photography prize, while the Student competition was won by Sergi Villanueva from the Universidad Jaume I in Spain. Zelle Westfall, who is 18 and from the US, won the Youth Photographer of the Year. The Open Photographer of the Year was taken by Christy Lee Rogers, from the US. 

The shortlisted work will go on show at the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House, London, before going on tour around the world; this exhibition will also include a section dedicated to Nadav Kander’s work.

The 2019 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition is on show from 18 April until 06 May at Somerset House, London. 


In Germany, pools are public. They are part of social and cultural life, open for all kind of social classes, a place where people spend a lot of time, especially in childhood and which leaves pleasant memories. Everybody can afford the inexpensive entrance fee. The series was shot by drone, in summer 2018 at a height of only a few meters. © Stephan Zirwes, Germany, Shortlist, Professional, Architecture (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
In August 2015 the photographer (b. 1991) was invited to a wedding by her friend Tracy. Here, the photographer was introduced to the warm, unabashed approach to life of the Congolese community in Belgium and the Bantu concept “Ubuntu”: that you only really become human when you are connected to everything and everyone. From the series Ubuntu – I Am Because We Are © Rebecca Fertinel (Belgium), shortlisted for Professional Brief award
Bosphorus boat wedding parties are very popular choice among young couples, in particular for long time established middle class immigrants people from the Eastern countries, like Armenians, Iraqi and Afghans. Image © Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni (Italy), shortlisted for Professional Discovery award
“To the south of the colourful clouds” (2017) depicts the otherworldly “ecology recovery” landscape in Haidong Development Zone in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Here, a small rural area is being urbanised systematically to create “an international leisure town and an ecology model town.” In doing so, the topsoil of the entire area is replaced by a type of red, semi-artificial soil, which forms the base for introduced, mostly non-indigenous plants, including thousands of mature trees © Yan Wang Preston, United Kingdom, Shortlist, Professional, Landscape (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
Bob is a Caribbean flamingo, from the Dutch island of Curaçao. His life took a dramatic turn when he flew into a hotel window, leaving him severely concussed. He was cared for by Odette Doest, a local vet who also runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre and conservation charity – the Fundashon Dier en Onderwijs Cariben (FDOC). Existing disabilities meant Bob couldn’t be released, but instead he became ambassador for FDOC, which educates locals about the importance of protecting the island’s wildlife © Jasper Doest, Netherlands, Shortlist, Professional, Natural World & Wildlife (Professional), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
Humans have inhabited North America for at least 16,500 years since they first stepped through the Bering Strait. The Chukchi, a Paleo-Siberian tribe from the Russian side of the Bering Strait may be key to understanding how America was inhabited. In Chukchi culture, past, present and future are intimately linked. You are not just you: you are your father, your grandfather and your great-grandfather, back to the first Bering Strait hunter © Álvaro Laiz, Spain, Shortlist, Professional, Portraiture (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
Democratic Republic of Congo. Goma. 28/05/2018. 18 year-old Blandini portrayed on the building site where she occasionally spend her nights. She also trains in the so-called Friendship Boxing Club. Blandini tells: “We live under the threat of being beaten and violated by men, in a general condition of discrimination. I was kicked out of my family by my mother’s second husband and found myself on the streets. For a living I do little jobs at people’s houses, although my biggest concerns are about defending myself.” © Alessandro Grassani, Italy, Shortlist, Professional, Sport (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
With a touch of mockery, BEURKMAGAZINE photographs food every day through metaphors that are as poetic as they are disturbing. For BEURKMAGAZINE, society is “yuck” in a pop culture universe © Nicolas Gaspardel & Pauline Baert, France, Shortlist, Professional, Still Life (Professional competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards
Audrey with toes and wrist bent, 2011 © Nadav Kander, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy