HIPA Awards: 22 Outstanding Photographers On Their Life Changing Image
The Hamdan International Photography Awards have always honoured examples of powerful visual storytelling around the world. Sakshi Parikh speaks to 22 award-winning photographers from this year’s edition about the circumstances that led up to their thought provoking pictures.
Grand Prize Winner
“I feel that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, it could hopefully start a dialogue on the problems we’re facing today. A little kindness can go a long way.”
I shot this image, Landfill Ballerina, in Guwahati, of a young girl searching for recyclable items in a mountain of trash. A small community lives inside this landfill and work as a team, some barefooted, sorting through mountains of garbage for less than Rs. 130 per day. Stacked very high, the ground beneath their feet is very precarious and can collapse anytime. It is unfortunate that the young children who reside in these parts have never in fact moved beyond the vicinity of the landfill. With the money that I have received from the award, I would like to help these kids in any way that I can.
Using Your Photography for a Purpose
Photography can be so much more than just capturing a stunning image. Think about how the possible ways in which you can give back to society with your photography.
Main Category: The Challenge
“No matter what happens in life, what struggles we are faced with, we can be champions if we try hard enough.”
I was photographing the Italian National Paralympics Swimming Championship, when I saw this tattooed swimmer competing in the 200 metres individual medley. No one expected him to reach the finish line. But to everyone’s surprise, not only did he finish it, he also won the championship. In honour of his strength and sportsmanship, I decided to title the image, A Butterfly in Water.
Forget about the photograph and pay more attention to the subject. Let your guard down. Neglect the finished product and focus on being present and in-the-moment. In the end, you’ll capture a more genuine and unique image if you let it come naturally.
“In the world full of cruelty and violence, cognizance and kindness can become powerful weapons of change.”
The photograph shows a young boy on his way to school, walking past an armed man, at a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. It has unfortunately become an unavoidable reality today that children have to be accustomed to living in a space filled with violence and uncertainity.
Know your Subject
You can’t tell the story of a place the moment you reach. Research extensively and know all there is to know. Only then will you be able to build a narrative that is intimate, nuanced and comprehensive.
“The animal kingdom follows only one rule—the survival of the fittest.”
The photograph shows two White-tailed eagles hustling over their hunt in the cold Hungarian plains. The winters in this region are extremely harsh. In order to survive, these majestic birds often duel with one another, sometimes to their death, in a bid to show their supremacy.
The best of photos are a result of a lot of work—moments, hours and days of leading up to the image. Then again, you may have a burst of luck, an unexpected sighting, for which you hould be ready, always.
“In areas ravaged by war, young children are unfortunately forced to grow up too soon.”
In a small refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border, there are no adults in sight, as they are out looking for work. A young girl is seen babysitting her infant sister, who is draped in a dirty old blanket. It seems like she has conceded to her fate, for her eyes emote a certain level of acceptance of her situation. Yet, there is a sliver of resolve too, in the way she tightly holds on to her sister.
Determining Your Driving
Force You have to live and photograph for the moment. Ask yourself two questions— why are you here and what story do you want to tell? The answers will e the guiding force for the rest of your journey.
“Cancer may have affected them physically, but their spirits are unbreakable.”
Time goes by very slowly in a cancer clinic for children, in the Russian city of Novosibirsk. The photograph, Angels of the Clinic, shows children enjoying a light, fun moment. The day the image was shot, the children were getting ready to celebrate the ‘Day of Beauty’ with their mothers. Hospital and charities have managed to organise such fundraisers in order to support these kids and their parents.
Exploring All Possibilities
To understand the extent of the problem, you have to be willing to spend a considerable amount of time. Often, photographers stop shooting a subject too soon. Instead, you should continue working till you have exhausted all possibilities and ways of telling your subject’s story.
General: Black & White
“I was struck by the devotion and utter faith in the devotee’s expressions and actions.”
A woman is seen pushing through the crowd in an attempt to catch the Prasad, a religious offering ritual, performed by Hindus in rural West Bengal. The urgency and desperation on her face depicts the strong belief system that dictates the behaviour of people in the country.
Evoke certain moods in your photos
Consider what kind of mood black and white stirs in you and try to photograph those emotions.
“A good journalist must be able to tell a story in te best possible way. It is important to be able to anticipate. There is an instinct of knowing what to expect, where and when to expect it.”
The Peace Village depicts the young war-stricken boy as he arrives in Germany for his medical treatment. As the volunteers from the NGO assist them in deplaning for the first time, I carefully positioned myself and capture his innocent, yet lost expression. Here is a boy who has never been on a flight before, or been outside his village, let alone another country. I can only imagine what he must have gone through in the place he calls home.
Spot the Unusual Instead of going for the most obvious conventional story, look for people or objects that stand out from the rest. Basically, determine elements that make the viewer ask questions and draw him into the image.
“The wrinkles on her body tell a poignant story of decades gone by in pain and misery.”
During my recent trip to Arunachal Pradesh, I met with several tribes residing in the area. While walking around, I encountered this 85-year old woman living alone in her dismantled hut. While framing the shot, I wanted my image to capture the rejection and sadness that she has had to live through.
and Personal However much you zoom in, a telephoto lens will only give you physical proximity and not emotional reach. One way to achieve this is to get physically close to your subject. Walk up to hem and ask if you can make a picture.
“Seeing the ant balacing itself on the leaves reminded me of an elegant circus acrobat performing the act of tightrope walking.”
The photograph shows an ant trying to stabilise itself upright, while a water drop is about to fall. I love creating vibrant macro photos of insects and animals in action, as it allows me to take a sneak peek into this whole new surreal universe that is hidden from the naked eye. I teach children and this is my way of reaching out to them to show them how beautful and unseen our tiny world really is. I hope, someday, the world will be slightly better because these chilren will have learnt how to appreciate.
Look for Vivid Colours
While shooting macro, you can use a ring flash on your camera. This will result in an image with an even, shadowless finish. Zooming in close means that the striking contrast between colors is very clear.
“The bokeh around the dragonfly gives an impression that it is swimming in soap bubbles.”
My image, Dragonfly Delirium is a result of my love for macro photography, which is my favourite form of artistic expression. The image is part of my ongoing series where I have photographed various insects in the bluish early morning dew.
Achieve Refined Pattern & Forms
Although we can crop things using software later, it is best to fine-tune composition in-camera at the time of shooting as much as possible.With close-up pattern details, ensure they either fill the frame completely so that there are no gaps around the edges.
“A bird’s-eye view of the swathes of containers creates a symmetrical effect of elegance.”
I am fortunate to have a friend who is a pilot, and this allows me to practice aerial photography. This was one such scene that I happened to come by while flying over Munich. The vibrant colours and the arrangement of the containers, reminded me of the game Tetris.
Craft is Crucial
Postprocessing and printmaking, is crucial in order to get the kind of colours and forms that you envisioned. Even the slightest of changes can make your image very different.
“Here is the irony. Many of the wild animals that I photograph are those in captivity at different shelters and zoos.”
It saddens me when I use the same photographs for many of my creations, not because its wrong, but because of what we’ve become. Natura represents a tree of life in the shape of a bird wearing an owl on its head. The layered image is rich in symbolic interpretations, and depicts fertility, continuity of life, unity and rational thinking. Through my work, I aim at reigniting the lost connection between mankind and Mother Nature.
Learn from Other Photographers
To understand the art of digital manipulation you should study concepts by other photographers and illustrators. Start small with simple techniques like double exposures.
“The beauty of life lies in knowing that your hours are numbered.”
Through my image, The River of Life, I have depicted a story of one woman in four stages, from being a young toddler on the edge of the shore to a much older woman nearing the end. I wanted the picture to be symbolic and make us question our existence and purpose.existence of every one of us.
Emphasise on a Single Element
When creating a piece of art set one area as the main focus. You want to draw viewers’ eyes instantly to that spot. There are multiple techniques to do that. One way is to work on focusing attention on the most vibrant, colorful, or sharp area in the design.
“Technology, which has made our lives easier in so many ways, has turned into a silent killer.”
With the photograph, I wanted to draw attention to our constant dependence on technology, especially with the way we use cellphones while driving.
Make Images of Everyday Issues
A photography series needn’t always be deeply thought out. The most common of social issues are often ignored. It isn’t difficult to select a problem to begin working on.
“I have tried to take photography into an uncharted realm that reveals aspects of human nature, both brutal and beautiful.”
My images are deep, visual stories, which allows the viewer the possibility of altering one’s state of consciousness. When She Grows Up is an image that shows a woman with flowers coming out of her neck, instead of her head. I have used flowers as a metaphor for memories, both good and bad. Sometimes it can blossom inside, and at other times it can painfully wither within for an entire lifetime.
Tapping Into the Inner Self
One of the ways to come up with a great conceptual image, is to look within yourself. Tap into your feelings, insecurities, fears, joys. Many of the most important works of art have come from looking within.
“In a world of war and injustice, where everyone is choosing violence as their weapon, I have chosen art as my ammunition to fight the demons taking over society.”
My photograph, Submergence, revolves around the horrors of child marriage, which is still quite prevelant in large parts of the world. I shot the same girl on the left and the right. The left side depicts the pain and sorrow, whereas the girl on the right shows strength. The submerged baby symbolises the death of her childhood, since she was forced to marry young. At the same time, the image is also a representation of depression and anxiety, faced by the victims.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
As a photographer, trying a new genre of image making can be scary and overwhelming. Instead of being afraid trying looking at it as another opportunity to learn something new.
“There is a common belief that walls can preserve memories of what has previously transpired in a particular space, adding to its vibe and energy.”
I like visiting old and abandoned places in Italy to document the past lives of its former occupants. While working on my series, Silence of the Mansion, I have tried to capture every detail with specific care. These photographs, with its atmosphere, are almost like paintings. It is surreal how one can almost hear the sounds of people talking, and that of children playing.
Its all About Presentation
Choose the most meaningful images and round them up into a cohesive unit. Organise them in such a way that they form a story that is easy for the viewer to follow. Don’t add photos just because they look nice. Stick to images that act as vital pieces to a puzzle.
“The aim of my photographs was to show the life they lead. It is a hard life but one filled with dignity.”
Through, Six Degress South, I am trying to create awareness amongst a wider audience about the poor coastal communities. Their way of life is slowly disappearing. Due to industrialised fishing expeditions, the fishermen are forced to abandon their lives and move to urban areas and find a job. The knowledge of how to make a living as a fisherman has been passed from one generation to another, and now their bare existence is threatened.
Have a Strong Visual Voice
Remember that your audience is moved by emotive content and by being taken on a visual journey. No audience will feel movd by by facts alone. Change people’s perceptions through your pictures and you stand a chance of changing their actions.
“ The underwater world is mysterious and magical. Here, everything you can dream of can be made possible.”
My work seeks inspiration from the works of Zena Holloway and Elena Kalli. In Underwater Dreams, I have tried to incorporate a mixture of contemporary, fashion and portrait photography. For me, elegance and beauty can weave a story in the mind of a viewer, even in the least conventional settings.
Safety is an Essential Need
When photographing underwater, it is easy to hurt yourself, even in the pool, considering water is not our natural habitat. Hence, it is always is a good idea to have someone around who will secure you in the water and on shore.
“ Sometimes it can take up to two weeks to find the equivalent amount of gold used in just one smartphone.”
In my series, Digging for the Future, shot in Burkina Faso, I have documented the pitiful lives of thousands of young gold miners, who work under extremely hazardous conditions. For many of them, the mines are their only home. I hope to create awareness about the injustice and hardships faced by them.
Research is Essential
Spend enough time studying about your subject. Ask questions and listen. This will cement your ideas, allowing you to think faster on the field.
“My subjects are not victims. They are survivors.”
Rebirth is a series of nine photos shot over a span of six years. To create these images, I have been revisiting Mianyang, Pengzhou, and Anxian in the Sichuan Province in China, since I photographed the after-effects of the deadly Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The idea came out of a desire to capture the passage of time and not of just a single moment. Here, the photographs have been shot a year after the disaster, and then again, five years later, to show the gradual healing of the children’s mental and physical wounds.
Its Good to Stick to the Basics
There will always be new tools to help us tell stories and new platforms to feature them on, but the essentials don’t change—we love stories and need them to survive, feel connected to each other, and to our past.