“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”– Lewis Hine
From the pre-eminent photojournalists and social documentarians of the twentieth century to the most articulate visual communicators of our time, for generations, great photographers have sought to convey stories through their lenses.
To celebrate our 2022 Visual Storytelling Award, (open for entries until Jan 31) we have surveyed some of the most captivating entrees from previous competitions and selected 10 images that display the medium’s immense, edifying power.
1. “Jakarta Sinking” (Finalist Visual Storytelling Award 2020) – Kristof Vadino
Sea level rise is a key facet of the climate crisis, and in few places is it more evident than the Indonesian capital, a city of over 10 million people that is rapidly disappearing beneath the sea. Kristof Vadino’s striking portrait depicts Alex, a local mussel farmer, as he goes about his daily work in the waters near his Jakarta home.
It is an image that is rich in striking juxtapositions, most notably, the stark contrast between our protagonist’s
weathered boat and clothes with the ultramodern, alabaster edifices in the background, thus emblematizing the disparity that exists here. Alex and his family, who live in a waterside cabin will no doubt suffer the most immediate and devastating effects of the rising tides, but, if nothing is done, there is no doubt that those luxuriant monuments will, one day, feel the impact as well.
2. “Ninian Northern Platform”, Dales Voe, Shetland Islands, June 20, 2021 – Peter Iain Campbell
Scottish photographer Peter Iain Campbell has spent years documenting the UK’s oil and gas industry (one of its last remaining heavy industries), culminating in his ongoing series, “Their Helicopters No Longer Sing”, which focuses on the end of life stage for Drilling Rigs and Production Platforms and their decommissioning and onshore dismantling.
Expertly captured in large scale, a rusting, monolithic carcass lies incongruously on the verdant landscapes of northwestern Scotland: a symbol of a dying industry, and perhaps for Britain’s once-proud standing as a global industrial power.
3. “Dip of Irony” Varanasi, India – Mohit Khetrapal
The Ganges has long been central to the culture and tradition of Hindus in India, believed to wash away the sins of those who bathe in its waters and bless them with a long and healthy life.
However, it is extremely polluted, and bathers run the risk of contracting deadly diseases such as Hepatitis, Cholera, and Typhoid, an irony to which the title alludes. Yet for millions, such as the family artfully captured in this image, such risks are not a deterrent, faith overrides, and thus, newborn babies are routinely immersed in the murky shallows.
4. ‘Kok Boru, the Dead Goat Polo’, Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan (2nd Prize Winner, Open Call Award 2020) Alain Schroeder
Schroeder‘s captivating image depicts a traditional Kyrgyzstani sport, wherein mounted men fight furiously for possession of a headless goat carcass.
A large-format monochrome masterpiece, it is an intensely arresting composition, a menagerie of man and beast, shrouded in a dusty gauze. It imparts perfectly the intense energy of the occasion; the fervency and determination of the participants and brings to mind the works of Sebastião Salgado, one of the greatest visual storytellers of our times.
5. “Mercedes”, Havana, Cuba 2018. (1st Prize Winner, Open Call Award 2019) – Rosa Mariniello
Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment.
A triumph of light, color, and form, Mariniello‘s image exemplifies the artistic potential of portraiture. The rich, kaleidoscopic hues of the blanket, and by contrast, the subtler iteration of the backdrop, draw the eye to the protagonist who is illuminated beautifully by the angular natural light. Her reclined pose is perhaps a nod to the iconic paintings of the Goddess Venus by the masters of the Italian Renaissance (namely, Giorgione and Tiziano) and conveys strength and confidence befitting of her unique beauty.
6. ‘Another face of War’, Douma, Syria, 2017 (1st Prize Winner, Emerging Talent Award 2020) – Sameer Al Doumy
Sameer Al Doumy‘s image is thoughtful and sobering, an intelligent composition that verges on the surreal. An elderly couple captured during their quotidian routine, a quiet moment of seeming normality that accentuates the incongruity of the utter devastation around them. Depictions of conflict, have been central to the development of documentary photography and photojournalism, and remain fundamental tools in shaping perceptions. Al Doumy’s iteration is a stark reminder of the devastating impact of the Syrian war, and a testament to the strength and resilience of those left behind.
7. ‘Maras Gang Member Praying’. San Francisco Gotera jail, El Salvador (3rd Prize, Visual Storytelling Award 2020) – Javier Arcenillas
Taken from Javier Arcenillas’ award-winning ongoing project, “Latidoamerica”, this powerful monochrome image portrays a heavily-tattooed member of El Salvador’s Maras gang deep in prayer in a San Salvador Jail. Beautifully framed and impeccably timed, it is a striking portrait that permeates with visceral energy and effectively communicates the essence of the scene; a young man trapped in a life of poverty and violence, searching for redemption.
8. “Little Lagoon” Australia – Ross Long
Ross Long’s aerial rendering depicts the aptly named “Little Lagoon”, which forms part of a larger lagoon system in the Shark Bay region of Western Australia. Cut off from the pernicious grasp of humankind, this compact ecosystem has thrived, and pullulates with a diversity of marine life: rays, sharks, and seahorses, to name but a few.
Captured beautifully from above, the surreal topography is typical of the region: azure waters set against arid, auburn surrounds. Moreover, the 90-degree angle accentuates the abstract quality, evoking the color field paintings of the 1940s and 50s, it extols the diverse, and at times, surreal beauty of our planet.
9. “Mud Race”, Indonesia – Jozef Macak
Slovakian photographer Jozef Macak has beautifully captured the unique thrill of the traditional, harvest bull race that takes place annually in the Indonesian regency of Tanah Datar.
Perfectly-timed, and framed: the pair of bulls and their jockey are conspicuously centrally sets, bursting from a crescent-shaped, mirey, explosion. It arrests the viewer’s attention and communicates brilliantly the dynamism of the scene, rendering the viewer feeling that they are present, and demonstrating why the event has been dubbed ‘the muddiest race in the world’.
10. “The Effects of global warming”, Rajshahi, Bangladesh – Sharwar Apo
The climate crisis has been well-documented by photographers in recent years, but few single images capture its malevolence quite so effectively as this transcription of a dried-up river in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Between November and March, the region is, in the artist’s own words, akin to a ‘valley of death’, a desolate wasteland devoid of drinking water and crops.
The unelevated viewpoint emphasizes the desiccated landscape and its otherworldly textures, whilst both the bridge and the solitary figure, bowed by the weight of his agricultural tool, seem almost incongruous in such obviously barren surrounds. It is a sobering image that serves as a stark reminder of the need for immediate action.
NB: The 2022 Visual Storytelling Award is open for entries until Jan 31 and photographers are invited to submit their work here.
All images © their respective owners