World Photography Day marks our calendars this Saturday, as the 19th of August 1839 was the day that the government in France purchased the patent for the Daguerreotype process. With Saturday in mind, we've decided to spotlight 10 fascinating photo projects successful in the 2023 Professional competition. As you look through the images and read the accompanying descriptions for each entry, you'll notice not only see the versatility of the 2023 submissions but also how the practitioners are creating thoughtful work reflecting our world. We've included the selected photographers' websites and Instagram handles so you can discover more about their practice and thought-provoking work. Also, don't forget to check out our Instagram feed later this week to see what we've got planned for #WorldPhotographyDay2024!
The Base Point by Mitsuru Sakurai
Shortlisted in the Architecture & Design category, The Base Point is a series of photographs that considers lighthouses as ‘baseline points’. In Japan, lighthouses are said to be an evolution of the use of noroshi (smoke signals) in ancient times, when smoke was used in the daytime and signal fires were used at night to act as landmarks for ships travelling to and from Tang Dynasty-era China.
The first Western-style lighthouse was built in 1869, and they became essential for safe sea travel. However, with the spread of GPS technology, many lighthouses have outlived their usefulness. There are still 64 functioning lighthouses in Japan; the lighthouses shown in this series remain in operation at their respective capes. In order to highlight the beauty of the lighthouses I took two horizontal photographs and joined them to create a larger image, before adjusting the colours and contrast.
The Dying River by Jonas Kakó
Awarded 2nd Place in the Environment category, The Dying River tells the story of the Colorado River, which once stretched over 2,000 kilometers from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California across the western United States. But the river in has been drying up and no longer reaches the delta, because extensive agriculture and diversion of water to metropolitan areas led to changes. Dams, huge canal systems, growing cities in the desert. Today over 44 million people depend on the water of the Colorado, but less snowfall in the Mountains intensifies the struggle for water rights. Farmers have to file for bankruptcy, hedge fonds buy farms to get water rights. The Cucupá, live in the Colorado Delta. "As a child I often went swimming in the river, today I fish in the wastewater from agriculture" says Leticia Galavis Sainz (51). "The Cucupá have always made a living from fishing, but without the river our culture dies too!"
The Price of Peace in Afghanistan by Mads Nissen
Shortlisted in the Documentary Projects category, Mads Nissen says of his project The Price of Peace in Afghanistan: 'The chaotic withdrawal of the US and allied forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 spelled the end of a hugely expensive and ultimately futile 20-year-long attempt at nation building following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Having sustained a low-level insurgency across the country for two decades, the Taliban forces who were once in charge of Kabul were quickly deprived of the two main sources of government income: foreign aid and billions of dollars of government reserves deposited abroad that were promptly frozen. Since then, the already fragile economy, which was reliant on foreign aid to cover three quarters of its budget, has largely collapsed. Now, half of the country’s 40 million people don’t have enough to eat and more than one million children are severely malnourished and at risk of starvation.'
The Sky Garden by Kechun Zhang
The category winner for Still Life in the 2023 Professional competition, Kechun Zhang's minimalist series looks at the tree nursery trade. Landscape gardening is a practice dating back to ancient times; Nebuchadnezzar II of the Babylonian Empire built a garden complex in the sky for his homesick princess consort, which was known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Sky Garden series takes its name from this history. Three years ago I settled down in Wenjiang, and there is a tree nursery within walking distance of my home. Exotic trees and rocks from all over the world can be seen there, including Japanese black pines and maple trees. There are workers lifting these trees and rocks with mobile cranes every day, transporting them and planting them in newly built parks, neighborhoods or streets in the city. I walk through the woods and take photographs when the trees and rocks are being lifted into the air.
Foodscapes by George Steinmetz
Foodscapes was shortlisted in the Landscape category in the 2023 Professional competition. Speaking about the work, Steinmetz says: 'Foodscapes is an aerial segment of my Feed the Planet project, which is a comprehensive examination of global food supply and how the world can meet the rapidly expanding challenge of feeding humanity without putting more natural lands under the plough. With the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, combined with a rising standard of living in rapidly developing nations, it is estimated that we will have to double the global food supply. Knowing more about how our food is produced and its environmental consequences is key to making more informed choices. This work was done with professional drones, as an elevated perspective is often the best way to show the scale required to feed all of humanity.'
Riverland and Other Projects by Marjolein Martinot
Receiving 3rd Place in the Portfolio category, this portfolio of work from different projects includes Riverland, an analogue photography project Marjolein Martinot started in 2020. It depicts various scenes – portraits, still lifes and landscapes – taken in and around the rivers and waterways of Southern France. Speaking about the work, Martinot says: 'With the series I want to portray the way a meandering river echoes the continuing and unexpected course that life takes.'
Adeus 'O Rey' by Nicola Zolin
Projects entered into the Sport category don't always have to capture action shots and Nicola Zolin's series reinforces that when documenting the last goodbye to ‘O Rey’ Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pelé, the most famous Brazilian footballer ever. Considered the best footballer in the world by many people, Pelé, who died at the age of 82, scored over 1,000 goals in his career.
Our War by Edgar Martins
The overall winner of the Sony World Photography Awards, Edgar Martins' moving series uses memory and invention to give us a powerful, personal set of portraits that are not only a tribute to his late friend Anton Hammerl but highlight the nuanced reality of war. Speaking about the work he says: 'In 2011, my dear friend and the photojournalist, Anton Hammerl, travelled to Libya to cover the conflict between pro-regime and anti-Gaddafi forces. On 5 April he was forcefully abducted and killed by government militia. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the investigation to find his mortal remains, in 2022 I took matters into my own hands and travelled to Libya. This previously unseen body of work is structured as a self-portrait of Anton Hammerl through the people he photographed and met, and others involved in the conflict (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on). They were selected because they resembled him, espoused similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded me of him at different stages of our friendship. This project portrays a complex story, warped by absence, that talks of the difficulty of documenting, testifying, witnessing, remembering, honouring and imagining.'
Arcadia Place by Dillon Marsh
Shortlisted in Wildlife & Nature, Dillon Marsh's Arcadia Place is a striking set of low light images. Speaking about the work they say: 'A few years ago, an old retirement home in my neighbourhood was demolished to make way for a larger home for the aged. However, the construction has been delayed and the plot of land left to its own devices. An array of weeds has now sprung up among the rubble, interweaving with the wild growth of the surviving flora of the original gardens. High walls hide the plot from the busy streets that surround it, but the presence of humans is evident in the scattering of wind-blown rubbish that rests amongst the foliage. This still feels like a protected space, though, and has even become home to a colony of bees. The old retirement home was called Arcadia Place, a name that suggests a peaceful pastoral setting. This seems even more appropriate now, although construction will eventually begin and this inadvertent sanctuary will come to an end.'