Sony World Photography Awards 2008

Team Blog

I’ve just returned from gloriously glitzy Cannes, and my word…wow

I’ve just returned from gloriously glitzy Cannes, and my word…wow.

I was invited on behalf of Sony to attend the inaugural year of the World Photography Awards, which they are sponsoring. Wow to the location, wow to the opulent living and lifestyle but most of all – wow to the incredible talent of the 33 finalists.

Brainchild of Scott Gray, the awards are designed to annually unearth talent and recognise the year’s best images. The comp was split into two sections; amateur and professional with the awards for the latter celebrated in a glamorous VIP Gala in the French Riveria. Incredibly in this, it’s debut year, over 70,000 images were submitted from 178 countries.

Before the awards were announced I was allowed to look around the preview exhibition which featured all of the 33 finalists work from the 11 categories, whilst the Honorary Board, comprising of the industry’s highest regarded members, including Nan Goldin, Tom Stoddart, Elliott Erwitt, Rankin and Martine Franck, deliberated over who should win.

Later I was given permission to talk to Martine Franck in an exclusive, albeit brief, interview to talk about the event. I’ve always admired her work, as well as her late husband’s (Henri Cartier-Bresson) and not only was I full of excitement when I met her but I was also somewhat starstruck. I hope it didn’t show! Here are my transcribed notes:

Natalie: How are you enjoying Cannes?

Martine: It’s beautiful. Such a wonderful location to host the event.

Natalie: How has your experience been on the Honorary Board of the awards?

Martine: The judging took a very long time but it has been worth it. They had many more enteries than they expected and so it was quite difficult to chose three candidates for each category which we had to vote for through the internet which was not easy to do. Then we came here to decide who should win each award.
Natalie: What is your overall perception of the work by the final 33 candidates?

Martine: I’m not surprised by the high stadard of work but I think more professionals should be encouraged to submit work in the future. There were so many who were not aware, and after all it is a very important prize.

Natalie: Who are your particular favourites?

Martine: Well I can’t tell you who won but I suppose I can tell you who I like? (Martine pauses to open a booklet accompanying the exhibition and leaves through to find her highlights.) I like Winship’s work, because she has a real feeling and depth and I like the way she photographs these girls. It is all very contemporary. I also like Abdul’s (Munem Wasif Abdul) work. He creates dramatic situations and is sometimes quite poetic, and his shots are composed very well.”

Natalie: Are there any enteries you have found remensicent of your style of photography?

Martine: No, I dont think so.

Natalie: Obviously this is the awards’ inaugural year, how do you think it will progress?

Martine: As I said before I’d like to see more professionals contacted and encourage to submit work. But I think the competition will grow in not very long at all.

Natalie: Finally, (as I’m being asked to wrap things up by the organisers) what is your overall perception of the competition?

Martine: It has been very interesting to see all the different areas of work here. It’s a great competition and thanks to a great company like Sony photographers will have their work promoted around the world.

A few hours later selected representatives from Sony, the world’s media and photography elite were swept into Cannes’ prestigious Palais Des Festivals for the red carpet awards ceremony. The guests took their seats, the Mistress of Ceremonies called the audience to a hush and the 2008 WPA began.

To start the show the organisers celebrated the victory of the overall winner in the Amateur category, Arup Ghosh from India, whose shot entitled Barber picked up best Portrait. Unfortunately Arup couldn’t attend the reception and so sent his acceptance speech through a recorded video message. Bursts of laughter and suppressed giggles rippled through the auditorium as the victor was shown out shooting with his Fujifilm DSLR, not something the Sony delegates found amusing. That said everyone was in high spirits and the petite faux pas was soon forgotten as the Professional round of winners were introduced.

Each award was introduced and the winner announced by a member of the Honorary Board. Anita Cruz-Eberhard from the US was announced as the winner of the Abstract category and Thomas Deerinck also from the States claimed the prize in the Science section. Fabrizio Cestari from Italy took the Advertising title, whereas fellow countryman Giacomo Brunelli scooped the award in the Nature section. Mexico’s Livia Corona took the Architectural gong. Valeska Achenbach and Isabela Pacini’s fashion photography collaboration saw them take that title, which was presented by Martine Franck. Robin Utrecht (Netherlands) impressed in the Sport category, Moises Saman (US) won the award for best Photojournalism contribution and Eduard Meltzer (Switzerland) for Music. Vanessa Winship, from the UK, claimed the portraiture award.

Like all great award shows, there should be a moment of confusion or mishap to halter proceedings, and I can report that the WPA 08 was no exception. Celebrity portrait photographer Rankin was charged with presenting the winner of the best Nude category, and the audience were shown the work by the three finalists on the big screens; Dmitriy Konstantinov (Russia), Anthony Marsland (UK) and Natalie Bothur (Germany). Rankin was obviously very excited as he exclaimed, “I’m glad about this, as it was my favourite.” The screens revealed Dmitriy Konstantinov as the winner, but protests from Rankin stole focus as he cried. “I don’t think that’s the right one.” The ‘winner’ was not at the event and so Rankin took the award on his behalf. Later Rankin and the Mistress of Ceremonies returned to the stage and informed the audience there had been a mistake and in fact Germany’s Natalie Bothur was supposed to have won. Natalie collected the award and didn’t seem to mind that it had someone elses name inscribed upon it it.

A moment of tension swarmed the hall as the Overall award, L’Iris d’Or, accompanied by a rather appealing $25,000 cash prize was about to be introduced. Everyone had their favourites, and guests speculated amoungst themselves whose life was about to change forever.

Cheers abrupted as Vanessa Winship from the UK was celebrated as the victor for her portrait portfolio of Turkish schoolgirls. Winship’s entry beat thousands of submission to win the esteemed title and she was clearly moved by the honour, fighting back tears she said. “It is very flattering to have been chosen to receive this award. May I thank everyone who made this decision, and long may the awards continue.”

To close the event, a special legacy award was announced, known as The World Photography Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to Chronicler of Cool – Phil Stern. Stern, known for his work during WWII, and his intimate portrayals of Hollywood and the Jazz scene from the 40s through to the 60s, received a standing ovation throughout his accpetance speech. The frail but nonetheless feisty photographer spoke about his battle with cancer pointing to his “exotic accessories” which included an oxygen pump to help him breathe. Stern took the opportunity to warn members of the audience of the dangers of smoking, and thanked his sons, who were present at the event for their support. To say ‘there was not a dry eye in the house’ seems a rather trite cliche but in this case it was true, moving many to tears, the Mistress of Ceremonies and myself included.

The experience was a fascinating and humbling one. I am moved by the overwhleming love and dedication so many have for this passion we all share and I can’t wait for next year to be even bigger and better. To find out more about the awards, see the work by the finalists and winners, as well as all the latest information from Sony visit www.worldphotographyawards.org.

Au revoir pour maintenan!


Images: Les Palais Des Festivals,  Martine Franck, Sony’s pyramid in Cannes, The SWPA preview exhibition, Rankin


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