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UK-based documentarian Craig Easton was just announced by the World Photography Organisation as Photographer of the Year for this year’s Sony World Photography Awards. The announcement was made in a virtual ceremony today, April 15, that featured winners and finalists in professional categories, including Architecture and Design, won by Tomáš Vocelka (Czech Republic) for his series Eternal Hunting Grounds; Landscape, won by Majid Hojjati (Iran) for his series Silent Neighborhoods; and Laura Pannack (United Kingdom) in the Portfolio category.

Along with the Photographer of the Year title, Easton also took top placement in the Portraiture category for his series Bank Top. He went home with an accompanying $25,000 cash prize and a range of Sony’s digital imaging kit. Bank Top captures the collaboration between writer and academic Abdul Aziz Hafiz and a small community in Blackburn, Lancashire. Aziz is quoted on Easton’s portfolio, characterizing the work as a challenge to the “simplistic representation of Blackburn and the callous use of the word ‘segregation’ by policymakers and the media when they try to explain the challenges faced by such neighbourhoods and towns.”

Bank Top was born out of the Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery initiative Kick Down the Barriers, a project instigated in response to media reports “portraying the town as the ‘the most segregated in Britain,’” according to a press release from SWPA. The museum invited artists and writers to collaborate with residents of various neighborhoods and “create a robust and authentic representation of their communities.”

The imagery presented by Easton is not just of community members, but indeed a picture of an entire place — from rows of houses and panoramic views that occlude individuation, to gathering places like barbershops and houses of worship, to up-close portraits of families and individuals presented in their daily context.

Easton is quoted on his win, saying: “I photograph to learn, to try to understand and to document and share stories. It is a privilege to be able to do so and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes — something that is especially important to me.”

Earlier this year, Graciela Iturbide was announced as the recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Contribution to Photography award, in recognition of her reputation as Latin America’s greatest living photographer. Since the late 1970s, Iturbide has created a photographic account of Mexico’s many communities and environs, and her work is “celebrated for its defining contribution to the country’s visual identity,” according to the SWPA. Iturbide’s images are texturally and visually rich, as well as capturing the cultural heritage of her subjects with integrity and stunning beauty.

In both cases — and among many of the honorees — the awards recognize the power of photography and its practitioners to showcase, preserve, and celebrate the remarkable range of human experience and world culture.

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She writes about art and culture, online...