For the Sony World Photography Awards 2021 Student competition, we challenged the photographers of tomorrow to tell the stories of those trying to make positive changes to our world. Open to photographers aged between 18 to 30 years-old enrolled in photography courses at higher education institutions, the competition, which was free to enter and open for four months, asked photographers to creatively respond to the brief Building a Better Future. While 2020 was a challenging year, we asked photographers to show us those who are working towards a better future for all. Submissions could be five to 10 images putting the communities or individuals wanting to create a more desirable, satisfactory and effective tomorrow into sharp focus. Images could be taken on any device, shot in any style – be black & white or colour – and approached from any angle. While creative responses are encouraged, it was key for students to stick to the brief.
This year's competition was judged by Kate Simpson, Associate Editor of Aesthetica Magazine. Kate has more than four years of experience at the magazine and, in addition to writing for and editing the magazine, has also worked on a number of other annual publications and competitions.
Commenting on the shortlist, Kate says: 'This year’s entries proved that the next generation of photographers are not only talented individuals, able to meaningfully document individuals and organisations making tangible positive contributions, but are recognising what ‘better’ decisions look like and how they shape local and global communities in the present and for years to come. Ultimately, these entries enable the viewer to really look – to view, internalise and perceive – with clarity and empathy.'
Here we showcase a selection of images by the shortlisted photographers, a wider selection can be viewed via the gallery below.
Student Photographer of the Year will be announced on 15 April 2021
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Faces: Building a Better Future by Matias Garcia (Ecuador, Ravensbourne)
Garcia's body of work presents interiors and portraits of members of a construction team working on the home of architect David Vasconez, who specialises in sustainable building. 'Vasconez has the aim for this project to be a pioneer in self resource optimisation. Through canals, solar panels, a natural refrigeration system and irrigation processes, the house will have a reduced energy and water consumption.'
Border by Matias Alejandro (Argentina Acuña, Motivarte)
Alejandro's documentary series depicts the work of park rangers in Argentina’s Punta Bermeja nature reserve. 'In Argentine Patagonia, there is the Punta Bermeja nature reserve, where the daily activity for the park rangers is to preserve the unique flora and fauna found at the reserve. Faced with an adverse climate and living conditions, these people undertake a huge task and allow us to reflect on the need to undertake larger and more supportive actions for the preservation of our planet.'
Bàt-ti-to by Irene Facoetti (Italy, Cfp Bauer)
Facoetti's black & white photographs combine radiographs and medical data of wounded birds treated in the CRAS WWF Valpredina rehabilitation centre. 'There are people who dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of other living creatures, such as Matteo, who is the owner of CRAS WWF Valpredina rehabilitation centre in Italy. I wanted this project to highlight to the viewer the dedication and hardwork Matteo and his team carry out to ensure the injured birds can return to nature.'
Home by Tayla Nebesky (USA, UWE, Bristol)
Nebesky's photo project looks at her parents’ efforts towards self-sufficiency on their ranch in California. 'These photos were made on my parents' small ranch in California. Each year they continue to cultivate the land and become more self-reliant.'
My Local Leaders by Coenraad Torlage (South Africa, Academy of Design and Photography)
Torlage's series comprises portraits of philanthropic figures whose varied contributions made a significant impact on their rural community of Dundee in Kwazulu-Nata. 'My subjects were carefully chosen and were from many different walks of life, ranging from Zulu royalty to a grandparents from local villages. In their own way each of the people I photographed have changed me in some way and all have one thing in common: they are all working to help build a better future. They prove that you can add value and contribute to building a better future from any social background.'
Engelhande – ‘Angel Hands’ by Claudia Mauderer, (South Africa, Stellenbosch Academy)
This project looks at the work of Sprouting Minds, a non-profit organisation in the Fisantekraal area, that aims to provide meals to school children and education on food sustainability through talks and cultivation initiatives. 'South Africa's economy has taken a knock that will take many years to recover and has effected the livelihoods of all citizens, particular citizens in informal settlements. Sprouting Minds is a non-profit organisation run by three individuals from a local church. Their aim is to educate members in the Fisantekraal area on the importance of food nourishment.'
Hope in Nepal by Hannah Davey (New Zealand, Elam School of Fine Arts)
Davey decided to document the work of The Leprosy Mission (TLM) in the village of Tikabhairab which funds the Anandaban Hospital and local groups working in the community. 'At the beginning of this year I was fortunate to spend an incredible few weeks in Nepal, experiencing and documenting the work of The Leprosy Mission (TLM). TLM is building a better future, not only for those affected by leprosy, but for whole communities. A truly transformative place, TLM supports sufferers to regain confidence and reintegrate into society through meaningful employment and purpose.'
Justice for George Floyd, New York City by Thomas Hengge (USA, New York University
Hengee covered Black Lives Matter demonstrations in New York City. 'The tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police became a catalyst for change, bringing hundreds of thousands of people around the world out into the streets to fight systemic racism and police brutality. Organizers of the protests worked tirelessly to fight for a better future. Their efforts have led to a reassessment of policing methods in New York City and record numbers taking to the polls to vote in the 2020 presidential and local elections.'
Inheritor by Yanan Li (Mainland China, University of Technology)
Cultural preservation is at the centre of this body of work, which captures the spirit of Chinese opera, a time-honoured tradition, struggling to maintain its relevance in an era of technology and new media. 'Chinese opera is the crystallization of Chinese traditional culture. It has inherited thousands of years of cultural heritage and is a valuable asset of Chinese spiritual culture. Chinese opera is not only a form of performance, but also the soul of Chinese culture for the Chinese nation for five thousand years.'
These students have now moved to the second stage of the competition and are each awarded with Sony digital imaging equipment to help complete their second brief 'Our Time'. Students are now challenged to produce a series of images which explores the way they and their contemporaries see the world and how they hope to change it.