Istanbul Photo Awards unites world’s photojournalists

Esteemed jury members Marion Mertens, Yuri Kozyrev share their experiences in selection process

The Istanbul Photo Awards brings together photojournalists from all over the world, and that is what makes it unique, say jury members.

The winners of Istanbul Photo Awards 2020 were announced last week.

The contest, organized by Turkey's top news source Anadolu Agency, is sponsored by Turkey’s flag carrier Turkish Airlines.

The winners of the contest presented a summary of events worldwide in 2019, from Gaza to Hong Kong to Italy.

An international jury convened on June 24-25 to decide the first three winners in four categories: single news, story news, single sports, and story sports.

Esteemed jury members Marion Mertens, a senior digital editor at Paris Match in France, and Yuri Kozyrev, a veteran photojournalist with Netherlands-based NOOR Agency, evaluated the winning photographs and their contribution to Anadolu Agency’s visual news.

2019 from Hong Kong to Palestine through Photo Awards

For Mertens, the "Hong Kong story is very important, and it is still in the news. Lighting in the winner photo is beautiful, and this photo could be from anywhere in the world where the demonstrations are going on. For that reason, it is very elaborate and covers a greater story than just Hong Kong." 

"We had a lot of pictures from Hong Kong. It is one of the main events of the year. It was not easy to decide. It was an emotional process. It shows the whole story, a very powerful composition. It's a classic moment, and the photographer got it," said Kozyrev about the winning photo of the year. 

Mahmoud el Hams' photo titled “Funeral in Gaza” and Ibraheem Abu Mustafa's photo of people breaking their fast at a long table near demolished buildings titled “Palestinian Iftar amongst Rubble” finished in second and third place in the single news category.

"As a woman, the image of these young Palestinian girls and their suffering were specifically important to me. Also, it is notable that the only person looking up at the camera amongst the rubble is a young kid, which shows that you still have life going on in this war-torn country," Mertens said.

Having covered war zones for many years, Kozyrev said: "In Palestine, the conflict is never over. Every year, we see pictures of challenge from there. The second photo is completely about that emotion and the captured moment.” 

"The third photo, on the other hand, shows the reality of the country. Life is still going on with everything that happened there. People still get together, get married, fall in love, and eat," he added.

Photographing crisis, disaster areas

For Mertens, the ability to portray emotions is what makes a photojournalist talented. Capturing a good photograph means understanding what people go through. It is not only a cold statement of what is happening in the world.

For a striking news photograph, the action should be visible, but portraying emotions and composition also play very significant roles, she added.

"For the last 20 years, there is no break to conflict. From my experience, lots of crises happen around the world. People get used to this and stop paying attention. The challenge for any photojournalist is to demonstrate that the conflict still exists and that we need to respond to it," Kozyrev said.

Having a real impact in the world through photography is a complicated issue, according to Kozyrev.

"Today it is different from previous generations, who for instance covered the Vietnam war. There was more responsibility and more respect. There are many people who call themselves photographers, but this contest tells a lot about this issue: if a photographer does the job right, follows the ethics, feels the responsibility of what they're doing, then yes, photojournalists can have an impact in the world," he said.

"Today, photojournalists should also be more domestic. It is very important to have an understanding about the locality, culture, and language of where you are coming from. If you're from Gaza, Iraq, it is difficult to understand other worlds.

“Visual language is very strong and can tell more than a thousand words. The young generation tends to see more than they read, so that's what matters," he added.

Story photos, single photos

For Mertens, one really should tell a story in a story photo.

Valerio Bispuri's photo series titled “Prisoner", depicting an Italian prison, won the first prize.

"For instance, in this story, every single picture tells a story in itself as well, in addition to the totality. Every single picture is strong, and you really get inside the prison and see what people are going through. Prisons are difficult to access in real life, so it is very important [that they are brought in front of us]. You can see the loneliness of the inmates in there," she said.

A good story is a story where every single picture will give you an understanding of the environments in which the photo was taken, she added.

For Kozyrev, there is a huge difference between stories and single photos.

"A whole story can be told in one picture. I am also a storyteller, and I look at the photos from that perspective. I follow the stories till the end. Photographers working for news agencies have that kind of skill," he said.

“In Bispuri's ‘Prisoner’, the photographer captured a whole story in every single photo, but in the overall story as well. This is what matters," he added.

Contribution of Istanbul Photo Awards to global news

"We received pictures from countries that you don't usually see contributions from. It is also great to have an international jury, and great to have an award based in Istanbul. Both our jury and the photographs sent are from all over the world, which is what makes the Istanbul Photo Awards special," said Mertens.

For Kozyrev, each photo award looks for something different.

"The Istanbul Photo Awards have followed a certain tradition for six years. I like to be a part of this. It also helps photographers to improve themselves. The photo chosen as the best can sometimes confuse the photographers, could even be frustrating. But when they understand the tradition, it makes sense," he said.

Sports photos

“In all three winners of single sports [category], we had everything we need: storytelling, action, and artistic features,” said Mertens.

On the other hand, second place in story sports, “Sport Climbing’s Olympic Debut" by Getty photojournalist Adam Pretty shows handicapped sportspeople.

"It was a good mix of news and photography features. In this story, you can see the connection between characters. It could also be seen as a news story. The evolution of this man who helps gymnasts can be seen here," commented Mertens.

Being a conflict photographer, Kozyrev has a slightly different approach on sports.

"Personally, I am a conflict photographer, as we said while launching the NOOR Agency. For me, sports is something I can admire, and sports photographers should be judged mainly by sports photographers. I always look for something different when I judge sports photography. It's all about the moment, and it is very difficult to get it," he added.

Anadolu Agency's online selection platform 'big help'

The jury agreed that the online selection platform developed by Anadolu Agency has been a big help in realizing the Photo Awards during the pandemic.

"The selection platform was very easy to use and [it's] great. We made our selections before we met online with the jury. We could choose photos, go back from there, and do all kinds of changes. Congratulations to Anadolu Agency, and it's a pleasure working with them," said Mertens.

Kozyrev thought it was challenging to be apart from his colleagues while evaluating the photos.

"I felt a little bit isolated. Of course, we had to do it due to the pandemic, but we still made it, thanks to the selection platform, which is incredible. It was really well done, but I wish I had friends around while evaluating the photos," he said.

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