Slideshow: 2020 Zeiss Photography Award winners and shortlisted projects

Winner, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

KyeongJun Yang, Korea

A previously unpublished 27-year-old journalism student from Korea has picked up €12,000 to spend on Zeiss lenses on top of a €3,000 grant towards a photographic project after winning the annual Zeiss Photography Award. KyeongJun Yang, who is studying at The University of Texas in Austin, shot a series of black and white images on film, depicting the sense of loneliness and isolation felt by a Chinese immigrant in the USA. The project, called Metamorphosis, comprises a collection of portrait and still life pictures about the experiences of fellow immigrants and girlfriend Julie Chan.

The theme of the competition was Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, and Yang’s images were picked out because “The images’ closeness and quietness allows us to see and think more about what’s going on here. To me, this work stood out from the other submissions we judged as it was clear that although these were documentary photographs, there was a conceptual depth to them which raised more questions than answers and left their true meaning open to interpretation”, according to judge and photojournalist Max Ferguson.

The shortlist of winners runs to ten photographers in total, all of who would normally have their work displayed alongside the winning images of the Sony World Photography Awards in April, but this year’s awards ceremony and exhibition are postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

More images from the shortlisted photographers can be seen in the award section of the Zeiss site. You can see all Yang’s images in an interview on the Zeiss website.

Alexey Vasilyev, Russian Federation, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Sakhawood” by Alexey Vasilyev, Russian Federation

Artist statement: I discovered photography quite late, at the age of 28. Now I’m 34 years old. At first it was just a hobby, a way to pass the time after work and on the weekends. The longer I kept taking pictures, the better I got at it. Slowly but surely I realized that I was better at photography than anything else. So I quit my job and decided to devote myself entirely to photography.

My intention was to show how ordinary people without much money and without a proper education are shooting films in a harsh, remote region of Russia. I always wanted to learn and see how movies are made with my own eyes – who works on them, how the process is organized. Between ten and 15 films are shot in Yakutia each year. This is no small feat considering the conditions in the region – long and hard winters, poor roads, high prices. You might say that films are made here not because of, but despite the conditions. Although production is so difficult, the quality of Yakutian cinema is steadily improving – evident in its success at numerous international film festivals. These days, the Yakutian film industry has long ceased being a mere hobby that exists only as a form of entertainment for the local audience. International filmmakers, from producers to extras, are interested in the development of the local film industry.

The film that my project began with is Stepan Burnashev’s drama Black Snow. Shooting took place in March. The severe frost had just receded, but it was still incredibly cold. During the last two weeks, filming took place outdoors and only at night, when the temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees Celsius, so the film equipment was constantly breaking and some scenes had to be reshot. It was an extreme experience for everyone involved.

I have always been interested in observing the filmmaking process with my own two eyes to see how a movie comes together step by step. “Is it really such a time-consuming process? Could I become a director myself?” These are the questions I was interested in answering. While working on this series, I came to the conclusion that I, too, could make a movie. You don’t need a lot of money. The personal experience that you bring to the job is probably more important. I doubt that my movie would ever make it to Cannes, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to do something to avoid going crazy in this godforsaken country.

Pan Wang, China Mainland, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Like a father, Like a mountain” by Pan Wang 攀 王, China

Artist statement: The first time I came into contact with professional photography equipment, I sensed that I had found my calling. The camera became the expression of my vision and my heart. After publishing several photo stories, I received some recognition in the industry and became a journalist. I have worked in the field of news photography for the past 17 years – as a photojournalist, later as an image editor, then as head of the photo department. After progressing through these positions in the world of photojournalism, I decided to turn my back on the news media and pursue my own projects. This is what led to my work on Like a Father, Like a Mountain.

The idea for this series came to me because I miss my father, who passed away when I was five years old. Among the few memories I have of him, there are some blurry images of him and the mountain. In the year that I became a father myself – more than 30 years after the death of my own father – I decided to quit my job. I then tried to understand the “mountain” that fills my heart. I try to understand it through photography, to revive lost memories and see my father more clearly. I thought about this project for several years before I started working on it. I couldn’t have worked on it while still employed. That’s why I quit and took about three years to shoot the photos.

I often think of my father when I go into the mountains alone. I imagine the moments when he held me in his arms when it stormed. Sometimes my father would carry me on his back and pedal his bike with all his might while I looked over his shoulder, wrapped in my raincoat. When I think of the heartache and unbearable experiences of the children in the world who have to grow up without a father, I often have to stop my car at the side of the road and cry. At the time, I was also very scared. But when I was photographing the mountain, a little bit of this fear and feeling of emptiness disappeared with every press of the shutter button.

While editing this photo series, I rediscovered myself and this very important mountain range of China. While getting to know the geographical features and traditions, I also tried to understand the reciprocal relationships between humans and nature and between individuals. From a professional standpoint, it also isn’t easy to shoot a 1,600 kilometer mountain. Time, climate, health, income, family, traffic, and many other things all have an impact on the project. Fortunately my family, especially my wife, understands me and supports me.

Stefano Sbrulli, Italy, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Tajo” by Stefano Sbrulli, Italy

Artist statement: I’ve been working as a visual designer for ten years and have always had this “urge” to look beneath the surface of things. I started this project because I wanted to reveal the truth behind the pollution caused by big business – how countries suffer under the effects of malicious and irresponsible consumerism. Then I decided to focus on mining in South America. Peru is one of the countries with the most mining industries in the world. Over 15% of its territory is owned by mining companies, mostly foreign. The province of Pasco is an emblematic case, where almost 53% of the territory is licensed to mining companies, and the town of Cerro de Pasco is the regional mining center. My project brought me together with the staff of the non-governmental organization Source International, the only NGO active in Cerro de Paco. It was only through their help that I was able to organize and carry out this project.

I’ve always had this urge to find out what lies behind the facade. If you look at the situation in Cerro de Pasco, you’ll see that it is absolutely appalling. Apart from the fact that it is one of the poorest cities in Peru, there is virtually zero healthcare. The education system is collapsing and the local community is not receiving any help from the state. The residents of Cerro live in a state of limbo where they are socially and economically marginalized, yet have no opportunity to escape from this life in the shadow of “El Tajo.” Moreover, the pollution caused by 60 years of industrial mining makes Cerro one of the most polluted places in the world. By international standards, the entire population should be hospitalized for heavy metal poisoning. 33% of infant deaths are due to congenital deformities, and cancer rates are four times the national average.

What touched me the most emotionally while completing the project was certainly the day I spent with the community after Lionel died. He had just turned five years old. I still remember being at the funeral home at 5 in the morning waiting for the body from Lima. It surprised me how much this death sparked the community’s anger and will to fight – it was something I hadn’t seen before. On that day, something happened between the people there and me – we developed a strong bond. Lionel’s funeral was held that afternoon, and I documented the ceremony with photos and videos. I stayed until the end, then I went back to my room to review the material. When I looked at these photos, I realized that nobody there had looked at me, none of those in attendance had felt disturbed by my presence.

Magdalena Stengel, Germany, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“±100” by Magdalena Stengel, Germany

Artist statement: Ever since my childhood, I’ve loved being shown photographs and listening to the stories about the people or places pictured. My grandmother had an old cardboard box where she kept all her black-and-white prints – completely disorganized and not in chronological order. The lion’s share of the photographs were portraits and group photos, and usually, the names of the people pictured and the date of the photograph were carefully written in pencil on the back in old German cursive script. As a child, I often asked to look at this box. I was fascinated by the faces of the past, their stories and lives during the war, and the connections and relationships between the people.

The number of centenarians in Germany has more than doubled over the last ten years, and this number is likely to continue to rise rapidly in the future. According to the latest studies, one in three girls born in 2019 will live to be over 100 years old. So it will soon no longer be a rarity for many of us to celebrate our 100th birthday. Many very elderly people still live independently in their homes today. I was curious to see what daily life at around age 100 looks like within extremely different realities and living environments. How do you manage everyday life? What’s on people’s minds? What skills do you perhaps only acquire at such a ripe old age? For ±100, I followed between 20 and 30 people, visited them at their homes, and traveled all over Germany.

What I experienced during these conversations and encounters is very difficult for me to put into words and express. People of this age are often perceived or portrayed as frail and weak. And yet it is precisely these people who have a remarkable degree of resilience, strength, and willpower. Despite disease, pain, and the limitations that come with it, despite being traumatized by the war and losing loved ones – you have to be really tough to still be grateful and have a positive attitude towards the future and life.

Robin Hinsch, Germany, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Wahala” by Robin Hinsch, Germany

Artist statement: I studied photography at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design under Professor Elger Esser and at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences under Professor Vincent Kohlbecher. I’ve worked as a photographer for several years now.

The original idea for Wahala goes back to a project initiated by Moritz Frischkorn called The Great Report. The Great Report was an exhibition performance that premiered in January 2020 at Kampnagel in Hamburg. For this project, choreographer Moritz Frischkorn asked me if I would be interested in creating a new photo series that focuses on logistics in the broadest sense. After doing a bit of research, I came up with the idea of exploring the Niger Delta. The question that particularly interested me was how people can still participate, in their own way, in such an exploitative situation. And this is what ultimately led me to focus more on oil and particularly on the people who have no prospects other than to clandestinely participate in the oil business by “stealing” it.

On the one hand, I was horrified by the terrible environmental conditions the people in this region have to live under. They say the environmental damage began in the 1950s when the first wells were drilled. This means that the residents of the Niger Delta have had to deal with pollution caused by foreigners for 70 years and suffer from other countries’ prosperity. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem generally speaking, but this forgotten conflict is now moving back into the spotlight for some people and will hopefully cause some to change their views. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface from centreadvocacy.org. Without him, this entire project probably wouldn’t have been possible. Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface is an activist and social campaigner from Port Harcourt. He helped me gain access to the different communities and also helped me deal with the excessive bureaucracy.

Alena Zhandarova, Russian Federation, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Hidden Motherhood” by Alena Zhandarova, Russian Federation

Artist statement: I experienced a deep feeling of insecurity after I became a parent and began to ask myself questions that I hadn’t ever considered before. So I got in touch with other parents and tried to find answers to my questions. The main subjects of my photos are usually also my friends. They are interested in the questions raised by the project – like the various myths and taboos surrounding motherhood. Modern society turns a blind eye to a number of things in this context. For example, breastfeeding in public places still raises many questions in some countries.

I talk a lot with each woman I photograph and ask them to write an essay about their experiences with motherhood. This is how I also found some answers to my own questions and came to the conclusion that we can only influence our own change. I am inspired and driven by this need to discover more. Topics such as reconciling the irreconcilable as well as internal and external relationships, beliefs, and preconceptions are what I focus on in my work and what I look at from different perspectives.

My perception of the world is closely connected to the visual composition of the image. I find it hard to understand things without seeing them. This also applies, for example, to ephemeral concepts like feelings and beliefs. The moment I discovered photography for myself, it became my most important tool for communicating and experiencing the world. So I began to flesh out their possibilities and limits – also in order to learn how to shape my own path through life.

Jorrit T Hoen, Netherlands, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Parallel Universe” by Jorrit T. Hoen, Netherlands

Artist statement: When I was growing up in the days of analog film and analog equipment, me and my brother were always playing around with cameras and experimenting with 8 mm film. My father, who was an avid amateur photographer, introduced me to the magical process of developing film and printing black and white images in a darkroom he had set up in our house. I really enjoyed it and I decided to make photography my profession.

I had the idea for this series when one evening on my way home, I noticed a strange light coming from a window. The curtains were open, and when I looked inside, I saw a dark, empty living room, sparsely lit by the light from an aquarium in the corner of the room. It looked normal and yet so magical at the same time, like a scene from a David Lynch film. I was standing in a cold, deserted street, and there was this warm exotic world, only a few meters away, where tropical fish were swimming. I think I stood there for five minutes and just savored this beautiful sight. When I first took an indoor shot for this series, the owner told me a lot about the fish and plants in his aquarium. I had already been there for about an hour when he pointed out to me that I should better start taking pictures before the “sun sets” in his fish tank. When I asked him to turn off the lights in the living room, we both started whispering, as if we were afraid of disturbing the magical atmosphere of the moment.

I like to take an anthropological approach to my images. This means that I prefer to shoot people in their personal environment, manipulate as little as possible, and work with existing conditions. For this series, however, I left the people out and turned off the lights in their living rooms. This changed the scene dramatically – it was still a normal room with an aquarium, but the way I perceived it was completely different. I discovered that the absence of people made me focus more on their visible traces in their homes and learning more about them.

Luisa Dörr, Brazil, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“The Flying Cholitas” by Luisa Dörr, Brazil

Artist statement: I use photography to help me connect with the world – to better understand who I am and my relationship with others. These places and faces help me live a less abstract life. I look at them over and over again and try to internalize thoughts, words, and feelings. Photography is an amazing tool to focus on what’s important.

I believe that everything you experience, see, read, learn, and think about is reflected in photography. Everyone who lives changes, no one is the same person forever. And it stands to reason that this is also reflected in one’s work. So I can see that my style is changing. Elements most likely to stay the same are my fusion of portraits and landscapes and use of warm colors.

The history of the Cholitas is as fascinating as their iconic clothing. As indigenous women, the Cholitas have long been one of the most marginalized groups in Bolivia. They fight not only in the ring, but also for their survival, to put food on the table for their children. Over the years, as these women gained more rights and freedoms and became more equal to their male counterparts, the term “cholitas” lost its pejorative connotation. Now it’s a symbol of female self-determination. While I was working on this project, I had the feeling that they wanted to be viewed, outside of the ring, with respect. I was there for the first time in 2018. It was difficult, because the Cholitas aren’t really interested in journalists and glossy magazines. In the end I worked with Monica, a friend and social worker in the community. On my first trip, I spent ten days there. The second time was easier because they already knew me. When you look at the pictures, it’s easy to forget the conditions under which they were taken. It can often be hard to breathe at 4,000 meters above sea level, but it was worth it.

Tadas Kazakevicius, Lithuania, Shortlist, ZEISS Photography Award, Seeing Beyond – Discoveries, 2020

“Between Two Shores” by Tadas Kazakevicius, Lithuania

Artist statement: I remember when I was young and my uncle showed me his darkroom with the “magic red light” that was on in there. I got myself a digital camera in 2008 after my friend bought one. Until then, my connection to photography was that I owned the same compact film camera as everyone else to shoot photos of family life at special events. I think I only really “got” photography after I bought my first medium format film camera. Only through it did I truly understand the point of photography.

Between Two Shores was created during a spring photography plein-air event where a small group of photographers work together or retreat like painters to work alone. It took place on the Curonian Spit and was organized by one of the local photography initiatives. During this time, I got to know the area I know from spending summers here in a completely new way. It was quiet, empty, and almost mysterious. Geographically, it’s a very interesting area (and also historically, since it was Prussian and German for a long time). So I began to analyze all this and understood that the people who choose to live here have a pretty strong connection to this place. The rest came naturally – I just had to begin shooting. Interesting subjects, magical locations, and people who really “feel” the places. It just all came together.

I more or less rediscovered the Curonian Spit, although I had already visited it during summer vacations. It is a very interesting patch of land that stretches from Lithuania to the Baltic Sea, forming a kind of lagoon in between them. So there are these two magic shores, which in my opinion create a place with both an electric and calming feeling at the same time. I drove around, walked around, asked around, and often found interesting places all by myself. Basically it was a kind of adventure – discovering this place that I actually knew well, but now saw with new eyes. The other season gave it a whole new appearance – it transformed before my eyes. I felt the urge to get to know this place better, to meet people I didn’t know yet, to listen to their stories. It was one grand and magical journey of discovery for me.