The World Photography Organisation has announced the overall winners in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards 2023 at a special gala ceremony in London, hosted by broadcaster and art historian Kate Bryan. The acclaimed photographer Edgar Martins (Portugal) has won the Photographer of the Year title, the accompanying $25,000 (USD) cash prize, and a range of Sony digital imaging equipment. Additionally, Martins receives a solo presentation of his work as part of next year’s Sony World Photography Awards exhibition.
Also announced today are the ten category winners alongside 2nd and 3rd place of the Professional competition as well as overall winners of the Open, Youth and Student competitions and the first-time winner of the Sustainability Prize – developed in collaboration with the United Nations Foundation and Sony Pictures’ Picture This initiative to recognise the stories, people and organisations whose actions highlight one of the United Nations’ environmental Sustainable Development Goals.
The Sony World Photography Awards 2023 exhibition opens at Somerset House, London from 14 April – 1 May 2023, featuring over 200 prints and hundreds of additional images in digital displays from winning and shortlisted photographers. Also presented are works by this year’s Outstanding Contribution to Photography, the esteemed Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi.
Controversially, one photographer refused to accept his award after admitting to being a “cheeky monkey” and generating the prize-winning image using artificial intelligence (AI). German artist Boris Eldagsen revealed on his website that he was not accepting the prize for the creative open category in the Sony World Photography Awards. His winning entry was a black-and-white image, Pseudomnesia/The Electrician, apparently showing a young woman standing in front of the camera while an older woman stands behind her.
In a statement on his website, Eldagsen, who studied photography and visual arts at the Art Academy of Mainz, conceptual art and intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and fine art at the Sarojini Naidu School of Arts and Communication in Hyderabad, said he “applied as a cheeky monkey” to find out if competitions would be prepared for AI images to enter. “They are not,” he added.
“AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award. We, the photo world, need an open discussion,” said Eldagsen. “A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not. Is the umbrella of photography large enough to invite AI images to enter – or would this be a mistake?
PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
Our War is an original and nuanced tribute to the photographer’s late friend the photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was abducted and killed on 5 April 2011 by government militia, during the Libyan Civil War. Frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to ascertain the whereabouts of his friend’s last mortal remains, Martins took matters into his own hands and travelled to Libya. He was brought in covertly by a petrol smuggler and was immediately faced with enormous challenges working in such a volatile environment. Realising that he would not be able to carry out a thorough and independent investigation, Martins instead chose to reflect on the question: ‘how does one tell a story when there is no witness, no testimony, no evidence, no subject?’
In Our War Martins conjures and alludes to the absent central figure through a series of portraits of the people Hammerl had connected with and those involved in the fighting (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on). They were chosen because they either resembled him, had similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded Martins of him at different stages of their friendship. The project explores the idea of absence, of documenting, grieving, and honouring a subject as well as reflecting on the role of photography within a conflict zone. Martins’ approach is to confront these questions head-on: to embrace the idea of the fragmentary and the many contradictions and ambiguities intrinsic to war.
Commenting on his win Martins says: ‘It is a huge honour to be recognised and although I am philosophical about awards and the subjective nature of someone’s choice, knowing that there were over 180,000 entries to this year’s Professional competition, is very humbling. In this case, it is also quite an emotional experience because I get to honour my friend on a world stage and bring attention to the family’s plight to find his remains. There’s no award that has the reach of the Sony World Photography Awards.’