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Interview: Student Photographer of the Year

3 years ago

Congratulations again on being awarded the Sony World Photography Awards 2021 Student Photographer of the Year. How does it feel just over one month on?

I am absolutely humbled to have won the Sony World Photography Awards Student Competition, especially while being surrounded by so many talented individuals. This award will help me build relationships and propel my career in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.

Young Farmers is such a personal project, how did you ensure you kept a degree of objectivity while creating this series?

Having grown up on a farm in South Africa, I was always surrounded with cattle, horses, donkeys and chickens from a young age, many of which I still own and love to this day. My background as a young farmer motivated me to explore how other young farmers are contributing to building a better and more sustainable future in South Africa. My insider perspective played a large role in my subject choice and how their images are conveyed. Throughout the project the goal was always to convey the truth and to stay objective, but at the same time the images should always be read as an insider perspective. In a metaphorical manner, I am taking portraits of myself and the land I have come to love.

Have your projects always been personal? What are you working on now?

The Young Farmers series has motivated me to continue with it for another year and further explore more personal projects. My projects have always been personal in that, I have to relate to, and understand my subjects intimately in order to photograph them.
 This year I will be visiting more farms, farmers and people related to this industry in South Africa and continue this work into honours. I want to capture this sector in terms of storytelling and documentation. The subtext of my images concerns food sustainability, political ecology and the roles my subjects play out in the land. The culmination of this work will be an examined exhibition and book.

Do you see yourself as a photographer or a storyteller?

I see myself as a visual narrator of stories that concern African land.

You adopt an unconventional perspective in many of the photographs and show a broad range of environments. This not only highlights your technical ability but gives us a fuller understanding of the story you’re sharing. Can you tell us a bit about how you planned and structured the project? 

I was shortlisted for the Sony Awards with my first body of work. I then re-edited the work and booked tickets to return to the farm. I realised what I was missing in terms of content, viewpoints, subject choice, styles of portrait making and set out with a list of images I wanted to capture. The second shoot was grittier and truer which balanced the slightly more commercial first shoot. In total, about six weeks were spent on pre- production, production, and postproduction.

You mention in the Year in Photos film David Goldblatt, who are your other influences? 

I have been inspired by the work, images and portraits of David Goldblatt, Pieter Hugo, Jo Ractliffe, Irving Penn, Ansel Adams and many others. More recently I have gained an interest in German Contemporary photographers. Other influences in my photography include mentors who have advised and inspired me to become a better photographer.

What advice would you give to students thinking about entering the 2022 Student competition when it opens on 1 June?

I find narrative, concept, subject matter and aesthetics to all play very important roles in creating successful images. Focus on creating images with a purpose, do not let competitiveness distract you from creating meaningful visuals.

What do you hope the World Photography Organisation community will learn from seeing your work?

Young Farmers is about young people who happily accept a responsibility that will require them to offer their lives in the service of others. I find this inspiring and I believe it could inspire others too.

How do you think this Award will benefit your photographic career?

I will continue to visually explore land and farming in South Africa, and with those images, I will create a book that collates my images from this year. My hope is to discover my first gallery exhibition opportunity soon and I believe this award will open many more doors for me in the future. My hope is to discover my first surely exhibition offer completing this year. 
This award, through publication, and print editions, has already opened many doors. Moreover, I believe the recent international focus on African art and image-making has helped consistently in the Awards choosing my work. 

Has anything particularly exciting for your career happened as a direct response to your win?

Through this award, my work has travelled the world in a time where people could not. I was able to virtually meet people like Pubarun who won the Youth Competition and many other talented individuals. 

Besides the direct benefits such as international exposure and recognition, I have developed a new appreciation and understanding for how I create visual images. I am now even more aware of the potential photography has. Ansel Adams proved that photography, as a visual document, is a political act that can raise critical consciousness. I see my photographs as visual documents, and as evidence, for the argument of food sustainability and the politics of farm ecology. I have placed all these projects in God’s hands and He has led and blessed me beyond my imagination.

See Coenraad's full series here

View his Instagram here