Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang wins top prize at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards for her moving portraits
A packed press conference at London’s Strand Palace Hotel this morning heard 32 year old Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang talk about the project that won her the L’Iris d’Or/Sony World Photography Awards Photographer of the Year.
Titled One Day in History, the project is a series of portraits of the survivors of the July 2011 massacre on the island of Utoeya, outside Oslo.
Gjestvang, interviewed by Catherine Chermayeff, Chair of the Honorary Jury and Director of Special Projects at Magnum Photos, said that she wanted to “turn the focus” on the “500 who survived” and to explore how people coped with this extreme experience, looking at how their lives changed.
On her website she says, “More than half of the survivors were children and youths under the age of 18. They have returned to their daily lives now. They go to school, they hang out with friends and they fall in love. They go to bed every night and look at them selves in the mirror in the morning. But something has changed. The young survivors will live on with their scars — both visible and mental — many of which may never fully heal.”
Simply because of the similar ages of her teenage subjects, her portraits echo the young subjects of Rineke Djikstra, teenagers on the verge of becoming adult. But these young people have had change thrust upon them in horrific fashion, and Gjestvang’s images show young people in various states of reflection – we’re looking at them as they focus on something that doesn’t easily reveal itself. It’s the portraiture of dignity and vulnerability. The lighting in the portraits doesn’t suggest clarity and while some teenagers look at the camera, most are staring intently into some unspecified space. As Gjestvang explained to Catherine Chermayeff, as a photographer shooting this project, it was “important not to be afraid confronting uncomfortable feelings.” Which is what this project is about, highlighted by the fact she shot on film rather than digital as she thought “shooting analogue would slow down the process.” These images are about the slow passing of time, or being caught in a moment in time.
Gjestvang’s photography obviously speaks to universal themes as she’s been published in magazines and newspapers across the world, including Newsweek, M Le Monde, Stern and D Republica. In 2012 PDN chose her as one of their 30 New and Emerging photographers to watch.
We’ll be following up in the next few weeks on some of the recurrent themes and trends in this year’s Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition, and talking with winners and finalists.
Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition is at Somerset House, London, from 26 April – 12 May. The images will also be published in the 2013 edition of the Sony World Photography Awards book, available to buy from worldphoto.org/2013book