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“Something has to change”: Portraits of growth from OpenWalls Arles 2020

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From intricate personal lives and fraught political systems to flourishing cultures and a precarious climate: BJP delves deeper into the ‘Growth’ single image winners of OpenWalls Arles 2021

OpenWalls Arles is a global photography award that exhibits both emerging and established photographers alongside Les Rencontres D’Arles. Enter OpenWalls Arles 2021, now seeking submissions under the theme Then & Now.

In a 1960 symposium address later published as the essay “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel,” James Baldwin championed the power of collective agency in driving socio-political change in America. “We made the world we’re living in,” he said. “And we have to make it over.” If the human experience amounts to anything, it is a constant cycle of building and rebuilding: personal lives and political systems; cultures and communities; relationships and ideas. It is these notions of change and transformation (both amongst humanity and our environment) that inspired the OpenWalls Arles 2020 ‘Growth’ category — a curation of 50 single images rendered all the more relevant by a year of drastic global upheaval.

Following an open call in 2019, the winners were selected by an international judging panel, including Gwen Lee, co-founder of Singapore International Photography Festival, and Julia de Bierre, director of Galerie Huit Arles. Alongside the adjacent ‘Daily Life’ category, the images were on show at Galerie Huit Arles in September 2020, bringing together work from a total of 62 artists around the world. In the absence of last year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles due to Covid-19, OpenWalls coincided instead with Arles Contemporain: a spontaneous festival of art, photography and performance in the cultural heart of the city.

“It is a portrait of a generation that doesn’t dare aspire to anything other than the next minute, but deeply believes that, one way or the other, something has to change”

Inês d’Orey, OpenWalls Arles 2020 Winner

The ‘Growth’ category sees musings on political momentum in Argus Paul Estabrook’s eerie shot of an anti-Trump demonstration in Seoul, South Korea, or Inês d’Orey’s solemn portrait of a young Portuguese protester, clouded in a fog of uncertainty. “It is a portrait of a generation that doesn’t dare aspire to anything other than the next minute, but deeply believes that, one way or the other, something has to change,” explains d’Orey of the latter, referencing her native country’s anti-austerity movement.

© Argus Paul Estabrook.
© Inês d'Orey.

Winning entries from Jashim Salam, Marcio Pimenta and Brice Dossin, meanwhile, explore the effects of climate change around the world; the rise of urban development is mapped by Ross Duncan in Malaysia, Tony McAteer in Egypt and Wouter Vanhees in Vietnam.

“The image encapsulates the growth of love, fear, understanding, human bonding — and impending tragedy”

Jenny Lewis, OpenWalls Arles 2020 Winner

Elsewhere are journeys of personal growth: Andreas Eichelmann’s image of Tim, who lost his arm in a train accident, adjusting to his bionic prosthetic; Shira Gold’s visual articulation of her grief-induced transformation following the loss of her mother. Jenny Lewis’s entry is painfully bittersweet, capturing new mother Rosy cradling her baby as she silently battles stage-4 bowel cancer: “We were trying to capture this moment while she stood on a cliff edge of her life,” says Lewis. “Baby Herb lies oblivious to the anxiety, while Rosy takes on more than she ever thought possible. The image encapsulates the growth of love, fear, understanding, human bonding — and impending tragedy.”

Viewed in unison, the winning selection is a powerful chronicling of resilience and innovation; love and pain; beauty and repair. It paints a world in which we must consistently fight for, adapt to, and learn from change — for change is often our only constant.

View the full list of ‘Growth’ winners here.

Enter OpenWalls Arles 2021

© Jashim Salam.
© Jenny Lewis.
© Monica Denevan.
Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently a staff writer. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, BRICKS Magazine, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.

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