(above) © Minxu Li, Female in Focus 2022 Single Image Winner.
With the winning images traversing tales from across the globe, this year’s call for submissions asked for work around the meaning of home.
The winners of British Journal of Photography and 1854’s Female in Focus 2022 include two series and 20 single images which demonstrate the sheer power of photography by women.
An international photography award from British Journal of Photography and 1854, Female in Focus was established to champion the work of exceptional women* photographers from across the globe and directly combat gender inequality in the photography industry. Globally, 70-80% of photography students are women, yet they account for only 13-15% of professional photographers, and that must change. This year’s call for submissions was centred around the theme of home.
One of the series winners is Egyptian photographer Lina Geoushy, whose project Shame Less: A Protest Against Sexual Violence, is a response to the universal prevalence of sexual violence against women. “In December 2020, in response to the #MeToo wave that Egyptian women led in June of the same year, I decided to work on this project,” she explains. She put out an open call on her Instagram, asking for participant involvement in a project about the stories of women, including herself, who had suffered sexual violence in both public and private spaces in Cairo. “Rather than a classic documentary approach, I chose to incorporate different elements that reflect the scale of the issue. I layered the environmental portraits I made with the participants in their own private spaces with their handwritten text and gold masking, to protect their identities, as per their requests. The construction of the images reflects our shared journey, and the evolution of my relationship with both them, and myself, regarding the issue.”
Also winning in the series category is Genoa-based photographer Valentina Fusco, with her series eMovere. Having grown up in Genoa, Fusco moved to Buenos Aires in 2019. “This work was born in 2020 during the Argentinean lockdown, a time when I should have returned home and was unable to do so for several months,” she explains. Those feelings of disorientation and detachment made her want to find ways of connecting with her homeland, and she began to see photographs as portals of connection. “When I was able to return, I began an obsessive search for the places abandoned by Italian migrants, and for archive images in museums and markets. In the process, I travelled deep into the migratory experience of my parents, thus establishing a new relationship with them, as if the common experience of distance from home had somehow brought us closer.” Pairing the found photographs she came across with new images she took of her homeland, her father and of the ocean between them, she replicates a compelling sense of space across both time and geography. “For a long time, Italy was a country of emigrants. Today, the cycle of the great mass exodus seems to have ended and turned into something more fluid. This photographic story was born out of a need to try to understand the most intimate, emotional and multifaceted meaning of migration, looking at my family, who emigrated to northern Italy after World War II, and at myself.” Ultimately, she says, she wants to show how migration is intrinsic to the human condition.
This year’s single image winners take us across the world and into the heart of an array of human experiences. For German photographer Julia Gunther, for instance, photography is a way to highlight extraordinary lives. “My work often centres on a critical approach to established outsider narratives and depictions of small or isolated communities,” she explains. Her winning portrait, entitled Miss July, depicts Xola, a trans woman who is part of the Miss Calendar Girls Beauty Pageant, held every year in Cape Town, South Africa. “Xola was the youngest of the beauty pageant contestants I photographed that day, and it was also her first time participating. What struck me most about her was how engaging, confident and proud she was,” Gunther recalls.
The power of photography to reveal both strength and vulnerability is also illuminated by Gala Semenova, who presents a moving portrait of a daughter supporting her mother after a cancer diagnosis, and Sujata Setia, whose winning photograph introduces us to a young woman who suffered third-degree burns to 96% of her body after a skiing accident. In contrast to these pictures, Jasmine de Silva takes us to the other end of the spectrum, presenting a highly stylised scene probing the human pursuit of bodily perfection. Meanwhile, Stephanie Diani’s winning image comes from a project exploring her parents’ relationship and the true meaning of home, and Persia Campbell’s photograph of a young girl in her bedroom speaks to the importance of our private spaces as refuge away from the world. Verônica Alkmim França looks to a similar subject, with a portrait of someone who has little contact with technology or modern life.
For some artists among the single image category, climate narratives take centre stage, including Tania Malkin, who presents an aerial image taken from a helicopter at 2500 feet over floodplains in the north of Australia, and Susan Richman whose winning memento mori style photograph highlights the alarming decrease of wildlife populations. Kristina Varaksina and Anna Neubauer both turn their lenses to people living with albinism, while Jennifer Blau photographs a 90-year-old woman developing dementia. Elsewhere, photography itself becomes the topic for both Diana Sosnowska, who probes what it means to be a ‘photographic subject’ and Morganna Magee, whose spectral black and white photograph speaks to the camera’s ability to capture emotion and atmosphere. Minxu Li looks to visualise the ineffable too, with a surreal image entitled Dreamscape.
Another single image winner, Marie Smith, transports us to her local park in South London via a black and white triptych of self-portraits. Taken from her series The Wanderer, it sees Smith taking on this meandering character and posing in a series of different directions in the same location. As a Black woman of Jamaican heritage living in Brixton, London, she wanted to research and make photographs in her local area in order to feel around the edges of what it means to truly belong. “The Wanderer responds to the different landscapes, utilising an intersectional approach to discuss identity, nature, and climate change,” she says. Smith develops all her films herself, using a plant-based developer that she mixes from sweetcorn husks and vitamin C. And Sophia Spring’s winning image is also a love letter to London’s parks, in the form of a portrait of two people taken from a project about cherished green spaces in cities during lockdown.
Finally, a number of artists among the winners explore what it means to move through the world as a woman, from Stefanie Langenhoven’s image exploring her experiences of pregnancy and miscarriage to Marisol Mendez’s photograph depicting women performing the Morenda. Sonali Ohrie offers us the empowering story of one woman too: her mother, who found the courage to get divorced from an arranged marriage. Photographed in her wedding dress, her face is shrouded from view. “When growing up in a strict Hindu-Punjabi household, my mother wasn’t allowed to explore the world until she was in a ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ marriage. Now, after her divorce, she’s finally able to explore the world that was deemed too dangerous for a lonely woman to face,” Ohrie says. “I’m documenting my mum to return the favour of capturing my major growth periods, because I see this as a pinnacle moment of her journey as a strong woman.”
Female in Focus 2022 was judged by an esteemed jury including Karla Guerrero, Founder, Femgrafía; Katy Barron, Chair of the Board of Directors, Photofusion; and Jekaterina Saveljeva, Founder, femLENS, among others. The two winning series and 20 single images will be displayed in an exhibition at Photofusion, London, in October, and a US exhibition in 2023.