The Sony World Photography Awards are a highlight of the photography scene every year, inviting photographers of all types to submit their best images in a variety of categories and genres to be judged against each other.
Countless photos are submitted, and the final shortlists and winners are almost always jaw-dropping, whether for their beauty or harshness, or any number of other reasons. This year’s main awards have just been announced, and we’ve gathered together some of our favourite images from the lists for you to browse right here. Prepare to be amazed.
Seeds of resistance
The overall winner of Sony’s competition this year is Pablo Albarenga, a photographer whose series documents the threat posed against environmentalists in Brazil who are trying to protect habitats and areas from deforestation and damage.
They’re pictured literally laying down their lives, contrasted with the area they protect in a stitched-together amalgam.
This is another from Albarenga’s series, and showcases another of his chosen details – the landscape on the right has the first signs of deforestation at play in it, shining a spotlight on exactly how the environments these citizens care about could be threatened so gravely.
The winner of the Architecture section, Sandra Herber, has created an amazing series of images by simply and sparsely photographing fishing huts on Lake Winnipeg, in the cold of winter. The freezing conditions positively chill you as you look but the individual character of each hut is also manifest.
We love the painted fish on this hut from Sandra Herber’s series – it’s a splash of vibrant colour in a landscape that’s largely monochromatic, and sets off the isolation of the hut really nicely.
Jonathan Walland’s photos of buildings look like something created in a laboratory – he cleverly dials back all colour and focuses only on the building in focus to create a sort of silhouette of their shape and lines, which strips them down to their architectural essentials.
This, another from Jonathan Walland’s series, shows that even when a building is constructed with a more modern aesthetic, and curved lines, Walland can still distil it into an essential form, something that looks like the very first sketch its designer might have come up with.
José De Rocco’s series came third in the Architecture bracket, and features stark images of buildings framed in such a way that their surface details become the story of the image itself.
Take the side of this supermarket – its red tiling dominating the frame but that security camera also drawing the eye inescapably.
Dione Roach took second place in the Creative category for this series, boldy titled Kill Me With an Overdose of Tenderness, which collages together snapshots from the online world in a punk-rock aesthetic that applies a grungey layer to our sometimes clinical social media channels.
The items photographed by Luke Watson in this series are all recovered from conflicts, some as old as the First World War, and repurposed into rudimentary pinhole cameras.
It’s a repurposing that prompts you to think about the object’s original intended use, and the creative potential that countless everyday items therefore implicitly carry with them.
This helmet from Luke Watson’s series is another starkly clean image demonstrating how something can be given a new lease of life. The tech world is particularly shabby when it comes to re-use, so this is a challenging photographic idea.
The medium is the message
The bleached-out landscapes from Hashem Shakeri’s series Cast Out of Heaven showcase a large-scale housing project near Tehran, but do so with the harsh sunlight and blanched building making for a stunning, heavenly sort of environment.
This image of a blank advertising hoarding has something distinctly dystopian about it, too.
This image is another example of how interesting Shakeri’s photos are – the focus is shared by multiple levels of depth in the image, with the huge blocks in the foreground just as detailed as those behind, all of them huge to the point where it’s actually quite hard to grasp a real sense of scale.
Hugh Kinsella Cunningham’s photos showcase the experience on the ground dealing with Ebola in the DRC – carefully stained in a dark-room while being developed, adding to the palpable sense of threat you get from looking at images of so deadly and transferrable a virus.
Playing their part
The Hong Kong protests have inspired many over the last year or so, and have also started to offer blueprints for other protestors around the world. Chung Ming Ko’s images of protestors are dramatically lit and carefully framed to humanise them.
The phenomenon of lifelike dolls being used by people as emotional aids has been around for a while, and unfairly lambasted without sufficient empathy, and Didier Bizet’s photos go to great lengths to remind people that these dolls are not toys or oddities, but almost always more complex figures.
The reality behind the label
Youqiong Zhang explores the ethics and realities of mass-production in Africa in their series, which showcases just what a factory looks like and is actually like to work in, without dehumanising or overlooking the experiences of its workers.
Robin Hinsch showcases some of the devastating impact of industrial exploitation and fossil fuel extraction in the Niger Valley. It contrasts the brutality of the environment that oil extraction leaves behind with the citizens being forced to live in the shadow of fossil fuels.
This image might be hard to decode initially, but once you realise that it’s a series of pelts stiched together into one piece, things become clearer. Álvaro Laiz’s series shines a light on the life of the Chukchi on the Bering coasts.
It’s sometimes hard to remind yourself that so much agriculture in the modern world isn’t out in the open but in enormous warehouses like this one, carefully monitored to ensure even growth – it’s like a bizarre, managed version of a forest, as captured by Luca Locatelli.
Who needs the sun?
Another of Luca Locatelli’s images, this showcases how smaller plants are grown in banked shelves of lit-up beds – it’s taking farming to the next level, and again is a photo that obviously forces us to reconsider how we think about the source of even our plant-based food.
World in miniature
We can’t get our heads around this photo – nothing we do stops it looking like a miniature set from Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Ronny Behnert’s images are framed with a great distance and white out the oceans around the Torii pictured to create surreal, serene landscapes.
There’s a lot of interesting facets to the photos submitted by Florian Ruiz, not least the fact that they are subtly stitched together from various images, giving them that slightly off, wobbly look. The industrial landscape pictured is near Xinjiang in China, a dried-up salt lake where the dust blows around like the Old West.
The final image we’ve selected comes from Chang Kyun Kim, who has taken a haunting look at some of the remaining sites of Japanese concentration camps in the US from the Second World War, where buildings are still standing testament to the imprisoning of so many innocents. As Chang Kyun Kim observes, most were in locations so harsh and unwelcoming that nothing has been built there to replace them.