"My name is Michelle, I was born on April 10th in San Nicolás, a province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This town is surrounded by the Paraná River. There is an old "guaraní" legend: When a full moon rises, a mythological animal causes the the water of the river to rise like waves. In order to survive underwater, this animal catches victims and eats their lungs. It has been called Yaguaron."
Michelle Gentile was announced as the winner of the 2017 Student Focus Award - part of the 10th edition of the Sony World Photography Awards. She won $30k worth of Sony equipment for her university, Escuela de Fotografía Motivarte.
Hi Michelle. Congratulations on your success in this year’s Student Focus. How did it feel to pick up the top prize at the awards ceremony in London?
Winning the Student Focus prize is a beautiful feeling. The moment I received the award, I could see the reward of a lot of work so it was a wonderful and unforgettable moment. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have reached first place.
Tell us more about your winning series, ‘Only Hope’. Why did you choose this project? What were you hoping to convey through your images?
I chose this project because the work that inspired me to take part and eventually become a finalist, is something that was healing for me. I realised that photography can be a powerful tool, and I decided that my next project was going to be to help someone. For many years I knew the situations of the people where the paper is made, and their history broke my heart, not only because of their struggle but also because it was unknown. At first it was very difficult because they thought that I would go and take pictures of the places, and I would not establish a relationship with them. But it was necessary and with perseverance I think I managed to capture the images I really wanted.
When and why did you come to photography? What does the medium mean to you?
I started with photography when I was fifteen, my parents gave me my first pocket camera and everything started as a game. I think I learned this way, by playing. But then the game began to be more serious, there were photos I wanted to do but with my camera I knew I could not do them. Then years later I asked my parents to give me a camera for my graduation, and they agreed. When I was younger I was paralysed by having to talk about something important, I felt that I drowned and photography helped me overcome those obstacles. For me it's the way I choose to express myself, and I feel free and without any prejudice when making images. Photography helps me feel free.
What advice would you give other students who are thinking of entering photography competitions?
I recommend that you be encouraged. It's just a matter of trying. I never imagined that I would be where I am today. For young photographers, even for me, it's not easy to gain confidence, but it is only a matter of following your instinct. I followed all the signs and this was going on alone, sometimes it is a question of taking the determination to take that step.
What’s next for you? What direction would you like to take your photography?
For me, the only thing I hope and desire is to be able to live with photography and practise it always. I hope I do not lose the ability to follow my instincts and to do things with my heart.