New narratives: BJP International Photography 2021 Award Winners revealed

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(above) © Hajar Benjida, BJP International Photography Award Series Winner.

The winners of this year’s award explore culture, identity, motherhood and more, visualising powerful stories in striking new ways

Initiated in 2005, the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award (BJP IPA) is an annual prize that recognises outstanding projects in contemporary photography. Many winners – including Edmund Clark (2009), Chloe Dewe Matthews (2011), and Juno Calypso (2015) – have gone on to be exhibited, represented and collected by international galleries, agencies and museums.

Today, we announce the winners of this year’s edition: one series winner, two runners-up, and 20 single images. Prizes include exhibitions at London galleries TJ Boulting and Seen Fifteen, as well as print features in British Journal of Photography. Covering a range of topics – from spirituality and self-authorship to queer culture and strip clubs – collectively the photographs reflect the shifting landscape of contemporary photography, where history and tradition hold renewed significance in the face of change. Some present stories that are rarely explored in mainstream visual culture, while others reframe familiar subjects such as the female body or nature in a new light. 

The winners were chosen by a panel of industry heavyweights including writer and curator David Campany, Fotografiska New York’s Amanda Hajjar, Pier 24 Photography’s Allie Haeusslein, Foam’s Claartje van Dijk, and Seen Fifteen’s Vivienne Gamble, TJ Boulting’s Hannah Watson, and BJP’s editorial director Izabela Radwanska Zhang. David Campany noted “the closeness of attention” paid by this year’s winners: “In the end photography is about paying attention, which is easier said than done,” he says. 

© Hajar Benjida, BJP International Photography Award Series Winner.

Series Winner:

Atlanta Made Us Famous by Hajar Benjida

In her ongoing series, Atlanta Made Us Famous, Hajar Benjida takes viewers behind the scenes at the iconic Magic City strip joint, once frequented by 2Pac and the Notorious BIG. The Morrocan-Dutch photographer was interning at a nearby photo studio in 2018 when she first visited the club. “I’d heard of the place because of all the music videos shot there and the number of times it has been name-dropped in songs,” she says. “I thought it was huge inside but in reality, it was a pretty small and cozy stage. Way smaller inside than I had expected.” 

Her bold, tender portraits of dancers speak to an alternative, intimate, female-centred perspective – as mothers or mothers-to-be, for example. “Often in Hip-Hop photography made by men, these women are shown as side subjects to the music artists. But all their videos and album covers are nothing without these women.”

Benjida receives a £5,000 production grant, and a prestigious solo show at London gallery TJ Boulting in December. A 2021 Foam Talent, the photographer has a background working in Hip Hop culture. She currently has a 200k-strong following on her Instagram account @youngthugaspaintings, in which she juxtaposes images of the rapper Young Thug with Renaissance artworks.

Series Runners-up:

Bowei Yang

© Bowei Yang, BJP International Photography Award 2021 (Runner up)

Argus Paul Estabrook

© Argus Paul Estabrook, BJP International Photography Award (Runner up)

Taking personal experience as its starting point, Bowei Yang’s project If Spring Could Feel Ache explores Chinese queer masculinity through vivid and poetic 4×5 analogue prints. “The traces on the film remind me of how trauma works on consciousness and subconsciousness,” Yang explains, of his experimental approach to exploring subjectivity. “Photographs shroud reality but reveal a deeper layer of it in a subjective way. There is no clear line between what is real and what is not from the perspective of photography and that’s the reason why I enjoy making images.” 

Argus Paul Estabrook’s How to Draw a Line, offers a rarely-seen glimpse into life in the border towns directly south of the North Korean border. In 2019, the Korean-American photographer – who has lived in one of these towns himself – trekked between the northeast and northwest coasts of South Korea. “I felt a personal connection to this space caught between two worlds – where military camps, secluded villages, and tourist attractions all coexist while separating the North and South still officially at war,” he writes in the project statement. 

Both Yang and Estabrook’s projects will be published as a two-page supplement in British Journal of Photography later this year. 

Single Image Winners

© Monty Kaplan, , BJP International Photography Award 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Matteo de Mayda, BJP International Photography Award 2021 Single Image Winner.

This year, 20 images by 17 artists have been selected for an exhibition at Peckham’s Seen Fifteen gallery in November. The photographers originate from every corner of the globe, collectively weaving a tapestry of themes pertinent to contemporary life. The gallery’s founder Vivenne Gamble says: “Creating a powerful story through one image is a challenging task. One of the reasons that I love photography is that it educates me, so I am always looking for images that have something new and important to say.”

Among the winners is Jessica Gianelli, whose self-portrait To Be considers Black women’s authorship and agency in relation to their own images. Continuing questions around performance, selfhood and Black female bodies, Mia Salvato’s winning image is derived from a set of erotic pictures of Black women in the Archive of Modern Conflict collection that are claimed to have been made by an anonymous police officer in Cleveland. By layering text and test prints onto the original prints, Salvato spurs viewers into an awareness of the power dynamics at play within them. Elsewhere, Maggie Shannon’s black-and-white photographs depict couples, women and midwives during labour. The images were made during the Covid-19 pandemic, when social distancing restrictions giving birth had an additional complexity to the situation.

© Jessica Giannelli, BJP International Photography Award 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Mia Salvato , BJP International Photography Award 2021 Single Image Winner.

As we confront threats to our collective future – from the climate emergency to politics, conflict, and economic crises – we naturally see a focus on socio-political issues. Karoliina Kase’s shot of a bird caught on a fence, for example, points to the impact of our intensive agricultural system and its devastating impact on biodiversity. We also see an interest in traditional practices and spirituality. Tony Mak’s study of a crumbling Cantonese cemetery is an example of this, as well as Fernanda Liberti’s environmental portrait of Glicéria Tupinambá – an indigenous leader in Brazil. We also see two images by Keerthana Kunnath, whose project The Kaleidoscopic Self explores the divine in South Indian Hindu culture.

As we live through continued ecological uncertainty and technological change, this year’s cohort of winners demonstrate that photography is truly the medium of our time. It is a form of communication that everyone recognises, yet so fluid that it can turn our gaze anywhere: inwards to ruminate on our own psychology, or outwards to observe society at large, helping us comprehend the present and envision the future.

Mia Salvato

Maggie Shannon

Tony Mak

Matteo de Mayda

Zillah Bowes

Julia Gunther

Meredith Andrews

Armand Tamboly

Elena Helfrecht

Fernanda Liberti

Monty Kaplan

Jessica Gianelli

Samira Saidi

Amy Mifsud

Karoliina Kase

Keerthana Dinesh Kunnath

Carola Plöchinger

With thanks to all of our judges for their valuable input throughout this selection process: Amanda Hajjar, David Campany, Allie Haeusslein, Claartje van Dijk, Izabela Radwanska Zhang, Vivienne Gamble, Sarker Protick, and Jurgen Maelfeyt.

Thanks to our exhibition partners:

Thanks to our printing partner:

Rachel Segal Hamilton

Rachel Segal Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor, specialising in photography and visual culture, for art magazines, book publishers, national press, awards, agencies and brands. Since 2018, she’s been contributing editor for the Royal Photographic Society Journal, is a regular writer for Aesthetica and author of Unseen London, published by Hoxton Mini Press.