Rewarding lifetime achievement and excellence in the field of photography.
The Sony World Photography Awards’ Outstanding Contribution to Photography title is given to a person or group of people that have made a significant impact on the photographic medium. The recipients listed below have produced powerful imagery that continues to captivate, educate and inspire us as much today as when they were first made. The Award is a celebration of voices behind some of the most groundbreaking photographic work of our time. The recipients have work housed in the world’s finest museums, galleries and institutions and are celebrated and loved for their pioneering imagery.
Honoring the best photographers that have the power to enrich our daily lives is key to the World Photography Organisation’s aim to support photographers around the globe and to celebrate their achievements through the act of recognising, sharing and presenting compelling imagery to an international audience.
2023: Rinko Kawauchi
This award is recognition of my work, and will encourage me in my future activities. The exhibition brings a body of work that not only characterises my practice, but also presents an ambitious series created with a different method and approach. Through my photography, I seek to create works of art that act as a signpost for me to examine more closely the experiences I am living and what I am looking at.
Born in 1972 in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, Rinko Kawauchi lives and works in Chiba. Kawauchi simultaneously released a series of three photographic books in 2001 – Utatane, Hanabi, and Hanako, and was awarded the prestigious 27th Kimura Ihei Award the following year. She received the eminent Infinity Award in 2009 in the Arts Category by the International Center of Photography, and in 2012 the 63rd Ministry of Cultural Affairs Newcomer of the Year Award, and the 29th Shashin no Machi Higashigawa Native Japanese Artist Award. Kawauchi’s work has been the focus of several solo exhibitions both in Japan and internationally, including AILA + Cui Cui + the eyes, the ears at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2005 and at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2006, Illuminance at Gallery at Hermès, New York, in 2011, Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2012, and Kawauchi: The river embraced me at Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto in 2016. She has also hosted and participated in a multitude of group exhibitions, including the Rencontres d'Arles in 2004, New Documents at the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2010, and the Prix Pictet at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2017. Her solo exhibition M/E: On this sphere Endlessly interlinking is currently open at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. rinkokawauchi.com
2022: Edward Burtynsky
‘I am very excited to accept this award. My work over the last 40 years has given me the privilege to see the world, understand the problems that we are facing, and bear witness to it all with my camera.'
Edward Burtynsky’s photographs are included in the collections of over 60 major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Tate Modern in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California. Burtynsky’s distinctions include the TED Prize, the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, The Outreach award at the Rencontres d’Arles, the Roloff Beny Book award, and the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. He sits on the board of directors for CONTACT: Toronto’s International Photography Festival, and The Ryerson Image Centre. In 2006 he was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of Canada and in 2008 he was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for Art. In 2018 Burtynsky was named Photo London's Master of Photography and the Mosaic Institute's Peace Patron. In 2019 he was the recipient of the Arts & Letters Award at the Canadian Association of New York’s annual Maple Leaf Ball and the 2019 Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography. Most recently he was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship (2020). He currently holds eight honorary doctorate degrees and is an active lecturer on photographic art. www.edwardburtynsky.com
2021: Graciela Iturbide
Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City. In 1969 she enrolled in the Film Center of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico but she was soon drawn to the art of still photography as practiced by the Mexican modernist master Manuel Alvarez Bravo who was her teacher. From 1970 to 1971 she worked as Bravo’s assistant accompanying him on his various photographic journeys throughout Mexico.
Iturbide has had exhibitions at some of the most important museums in Mexico, USA and Europe. She has received international awards such as the W. Eugene Smith Prize; first prize for the Mois de la Photographie in Paris; the Hugo-Erfurth in Leverkusen, Germany; first prize in Hokkaido, Japan; the prize from the City of Arles, France; the Guggenheim Fellowship; the 2008 Hasselblad Award; the 2009 National Prize of Sciences and Arts in Mexico; the Infinity award given by the International Center of Photography in 2015 and the Sony World Photography Awards 2021 Outstanding Contribution to Photography. Many books of her work have been published in different countries.
Read our interview with Iturdibe here
Find out more about her work at gracielaiturbide.org
2020: Gerhard Steidl
“I’m honoured to be the Outstanding Contribution to Photography 2020 recipient. As a printer and publisher, one of the things I love most about photobooks is that they’re a democratic medium: they bring photography to a wider audience. In this spirit I’m particularly excited about creating the exhibition One Love, One Book: Steidl Book Culture. The Photobook as Multiple at Somerset House. It’s a chance to show some of our most ambitious books, to share some bookmaking secrets, and hopefully to inspire the next generation of bookmakers.”
- Gerhard Steidl
Based in Gottingen, Germany, Gerhard Steidl began working as a printer and designer in 1969. In 1994 Steidl publishing house launched its international photobook program. Today it includes some of the world’s most renowned photographers and artists including Joel Sternfeld, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Robert Adams, Karl Lagerfeld, Lewis Baltz, Dayanita Singh, Ed Ruscha, Roni Horn and Juergen Teller, to name but a few.
Steidl has produced books for six of the 12 past Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipients. This is the first time the award has been given to someone other than a photographer.
Every Steidl book distinguishes itself through individual design and production values. Known for his passion for paper, printer and publisher Gerhard Steidl personally selects the paper and binding materials for each title and oversees all aspects of the production process – each Steidl book literally passes through his hands.
Over the decades Steidl at Düstere Straße 4 in Göttingen has become one of the most respected printers in the international publishing world. Whether photography, art, fashion or literature, it is Steidl’s goal to realize the dreams and goals of artists and authors, and to create art in book form.
Read more about Steidl’s reaction to receiving this year’s award here.
2019: Nadav Kander
"To be the 2019 Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipient is a great accolade because it hints at one being an inspiration and I don't think there's a compliment greater than that."
- Nadav Kander
Based in London, Nadav Kander is a photographer, director and artist best known for his portrait and fine art landscape imagery.
The artist’s work has been shown extensively around the world and his photographs are housed in several public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery (UK), Museum of Contemporary Photography (United States) and the Statoil Collection (Norway). Kander has published seven books, his most recent titled Dark Line - The Thames Estuary (2017).
Kander has received international recognition with accolades including the Honorary Fellowship Award from the Royal Photographic Society in 2015 and winning the Prix Pictet in 2009.
Read more about Nadav Kander's reaction to receiving the award here.
2018: Candida Höfer
"I feel very honored. I hope this will help to continue to break down barriers between Photography and Art in public perception."
- Candida Höfer
Candida Höfer is internationally recognized for her large-format color photographs of vast, grand empty interiors. The German artist is renowned for her technical expertise and meticulous approach towards her work. In 2003 Höfer represented Germany in the 50 Venice Biennale and her images are part of major museum collections across the globe, including Tate Modern (UK), Museum of Modern Art (United States) and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Spain).
2017: Martin Parr
"It is a great honour to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Photography title, especially knowing the illustrious previous recipients such as William Klein and William Eggleston. It is also very reassuring to see the World Photography Organisation and Sony’s continuing support for all aspects of contemporary photography, through this exhibition and this season of awards."
- Martin Parr
Celebrated as the chronicler of our time, Martin Parr’s distinctive approach towards reportage has secured his reputation as one of the most significant photographers of post-war Britain. With a sharp and satirical eye, Parr focuses on the eccentricities of the British. His creative output has been prolific and has released an astounding 106 solo books. Parr is a curator, photobook collector, a member of Magnum Photos (he was president of Magnum Photos International from 2014 to 2017) and founder of the Martin Parr Foundation – an initiative which supports and preserves the legacy of photographers who made and continue to make significant work focused on the United Kingdom.
2016: Rong Rong & Inri
"We are extremely grateful for the support and encouragement that we've received throughout the years, to which our recognition is due today. This award genuinely encourages us to put more effort into the development of photography."
- RongRong and Inri
(Born 1968 and 1973)
RongRong and Inri have been creating photographic art since 2000. Critically acclaimed for pushing the boundaries of traditional black & white darkroom practice, seminal works include In the Great Wall, China and In Fujisan. The bi-national, husband-and-wife duo established the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing in 2007, China’s first contemporary art space dedicated to the medium and the Jimei x Arles Photo Festival in partnership with Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2015. They also host an annual award to discover and encourage China's most promising photographers.
2015: Elliott Erwitt
"Elliott is a born photographer and also the most intelligent photographer I came to know. It is astonishing that he has been a top photographer for the last 60 years. I bet he will stay on top for another 10 years. At least."
- Hiroji Kubota, Magnum Photographer and friend
The creator behind the most recognized black & white photographs of the 20th century, documentary photographer Elliott Erwitt is applauded for capturing absurd situations of the everyday with a light, ironic style. Erwitt’s huge body of diverse work includes his many commercial and advertising assignments when working for LIFE and Holiday magazines. With 25 monographs published and four large retrospectives shown internationally, alongside the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award Erwitt’s received the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and an honorary fellowship in 2002. In 2011 he was given the International Center for Photography's Infinity Award.
2014: Mary Ellen Mark
"I feel very grateful to have received the Sony World Photography Awards’ Outstanding Contribution to Photography accolade. I follow a list of very prestigious people – they are among my favorite photographers."
- Mary Ellen Mark
(Born 1940 – 2015)
The late American photographer Mary Ellen Mark is celebrated for her empathic photojournalism focused on the plight of the dispossessed. Merging stylized portraiture and traditional reportage to powerful effect, Ellen Mark’s work has been published in 23 books, as well as leading magazines LIFE, New York Times, Vanity Fair, New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. Alongside her photojournalism, Mark established herself as an on-set photographer for many Hollywood film, including Catch-22, Apocalypse Now and Australia.
2013: William Eggleston
"The world is in color. To paraphrase my friend John Szarkowski, my attempt has been to see simultaneously, both the blue and the sky as one thing."
- William Eggleston
American photographer William Eggleston is praised for elevating color photography to be recognized within the art world. His distinctive style combines vernacular subject matter with a vivid, saturated aesthetic, made possible through his use of Kodachrome dye transfer printing. With his surreal visions of suburban America shown in nine major exhibition in some of the most prestigious institutions around the world – including San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (United States) and London’s National Portrait Gallery (UK) – the photographer has also released 22 books and given nine awards for his vital input on the photographic medium.
2012: William Klein
"A prodigious giant of film, photography and graphic publications, William Klein is one of the true great forces of the 20th and 21st century. His work has blasted a trail of innovation and has had a major influence on the many artists who have followed in his wake. Klein is a true master of the creative arts."
- HackelBury Fine Arts, London
(Born 1928, died 2022)
William Klein was regarded as one of photography’s most exciting innovators in the 20th century. Combining highly charged street photography with an experimental, abstract style, Klein embraced filmmaking, painting, graphic design and photography to create his works. His pieces have been exhibited extensively around the world, with large retrospectives shown in the Museum of Modern Art (United States), Tate Modern (UK) and Stedelijk Museum (Netherlands). The American-born French photographer has won several awards across his career, including the Prix Nadar in 1957 for Life Is Good For You In New York and the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship in 1999.
2011: Bruce Davidson
Bruce Davidson is seen as one of the 20th century’s foremost photographers for his black & white social reportage work. With many of images published in LIFE magazine, from 1958 to 1961 Davidson created many influential photo essays, including The Dwarf, Brooklyn Gang and Freedom Rides. Largely photographing in New York, Davidson documented the Civil Rights movement and created immersive photo essays that shed light on marginalized, closed off communities. He has published 14 books during his 50-year career, including Subway, Brooklyn Gang: Summer 1959 and Lesser Known. His work is housed in 13 prestigious collections across North America and Canada, including Washington D.C’s Library of Congress and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1962 he received a Guggenheim fellowship.
2010: Eve Arnold
(Born 1912 - 2012)
Eve Arnold was the first woman to join the prestigious agency Magnum Photos. A documentary photographer revered for her in-depth editorial work full of poetic pathos, Arnold’s ability to capture the vulnerability of her subjects – be them the glitterati or the disenfranchised – made her a pioneer in photojournalism. She was also praised for synthesizing writing with photography to powerful effect and created 12 books during her career. Particularly notable publications include The Unretouched Woman, All in a Day's Work, In China and The Great British. Alongside being an Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipient, she was appointed honorary OBE in 2003 and in 1995 was elected Master Photographer by New York’s International Center of Photography.
2009: Marc Riboud
(Born 1923 - 2016)
French photographer Marc Riboud is celebrated for his documentation of key moments in the 20th Century history, including China’s Cultural Revolution, the Anti-Vietnam War protests in Washington, D.C and Algeria’s war for independence. Photographing in high-octane environments, Riboud was revered for his poetic approach towards reportage. Riboud was one of Magnum Photos’ earliest members, his work has been exhibited worldwide and published in more than 30 books. Seminal works include Far East: The Three Banners of China, Face of North Vietnam, Visions of China, and In China. Alongside being awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award, Riboud has received Overseas Press Club, the ICP Infinity Award and the Nadar Prize. An extensive collection of Riboud’s original prints are housed in the National Museum of Modern Art (Centre Georges Pompidou), in Paris.
2008: Phil Stern
(Born 1919 – 2014)
Philip "Snapdragon" Stern was an American photographer noted for his iconic portraits and war imagery. A staff photographer for LIFE, Collier’s and LOOK magazine, Stern made his mark on in cinema and worked as a still cameraman on more than 200 films, including Guys and Dolls and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His photographs have contributed to hundreds of book and record covers, and his emotion-filled portraits of the great luminaries of mid-century American culture – such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra – are now part into our visual language. Stern’s war photographs have also cemented his legacy in photography, with his reportage work of US troops during World War II now historic documents.