Among the individual category winners, Edward Burtynsky is awarded this year’s prize for Outstanding Contribution to Photography.
Australian photographer Adam Ferguson has been named overall winner of the professional category at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards. Ferguson’s winning series, Migrantes, is a set of powerful black and white self-portraits of migrants waiting to cross the border into the USA from Mexico.
Remembering where the project began, Ferguson says, “in February 2021, after a change of presidential administrations in the US, migrants from Central and South America surged on the US-Mexican border. Photographs of fraught migrants circulated in the media, carrying their only belongings, clinging to loved ones, and caught in the flashes of photographers strobes as they crossed the Rio Grande in makeshift flotation devices.” These images were vivid, Ferguson recalls, but he wasn’t seeing many from the Mexican side of the border, especially ones that gave migrants much agency.
“There was a lot of important, critical photojournalism being made, but I wanted to contribute to the narrative by adding to it instead of doing the same, so crossing the border into Mexico and making portraits that were intimate and collaborative felt like the method for that.” Soon after, Ferguson pitched the idea to his editor at The New York Times, and for 11 days over April and May 2021 he travelled to the cities of Juarez and Reynosa in Mexico.
In the resulting portraits, Ferguson’s sitters are collaborators, holding a cable release and choosing when to take the picture. Some people group together and pose, while others stand alone looking skywards or intently into the lens. “Instead of presenting migrants as marginalised, I wanted to cut through the two-dimensional depiction of refugees as victims,” he says. “Surrendering control of capture was a way to give each person agency in the photographic process, and in their own stories.”
As the overall winner of this year’s prize, Ferguson takes home $25,000. His work will be shown at an exhibition at Somerset House from 13 April, along with the winning series from the 10 individual categories, including that of Haruna Ogata & Jean-Etienne Portail who won in the Still Life category, and Jan Grarup in the Documentary category. The renowned landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky is awarded this year’s prize for Outstanding Contribution to Photography. And, Ezra Bohm from the Netherlands is the Student Photographer of the Year. To find out the winners of all individual, professional categories, head to the WPO website.
Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London