LensCulture Critics’ Choice 2021
LensCulture Critics’ Choice 2021
Meet the 2021 Critics’ Choice Award Winners!

The Critics’ Choice Awards are like no other. We ask experts to dig into thousands of entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favorites. There’s no jurying as a panel, just essential picks brought to you straight from the gallery directors, photo editors, publishers, and art directors making their way through so many phenomenal submissions.

This year brought us images from photographers in over 150 countries. The 21 critics have spoken, choosing 49 from the bunch whose standout photos and series captured their hearts. There are poignant reflections on the pandemic, both intimate and collective; diaristic and social documentary projects, from desert dwellers living off the grid to queer political refugees in Berlin; sculptural objects and cross-stitched photographs; candid and constructed images; contemporary abstraction and conceptual photography; ruminations about climate change, identity, and family narratives.

The selections run the gamut, representing the breadth and vitality of contemporary photography around the world. We invite you to explore the critics’ choices and find out why they were drawn to the images they selected. It’s your chance to discover some great new photography from around the world — and glean insight and inspiration from great minds in photography.

Discover the work of all 49 photographers selected by these industry insiders, and find out directly from each critic why their image or series stood out from the rest.
Selected by Ada Takahashi
Principal, Robert Koch Gallery
Canada
Daniel Skwarna
Desert Dweller
Canada
Daniel Skwarna
Desert Dweller
Daniel Skwarna's riveting portraits of desert dwellers living off the grid without modern-day conveniences bring to light the beliefs and conventions of a subculture outside the mainstream. The trust between the artist and those he photographs is palpable, resulting in images of strong authenticity and respectful humanity. Set against the harsh Sonoran Desert, we can almost feel the dry heat and dust in his stunningly intimate portraits.
– Ada Takahashi
United States
Diana Cheren Nygren
The Persistence of Family
United States
Diana Cheren Nygren
The Persistence of Family
Photography is often thought to be the medium capturing the "decisive moment." In Diana Cheren Nygren's work, it is not singular frozen moments that we encounter, but rather the passage of time through juxtapositions of photographs from the present and the past. I was entranced by Nygren's ethereal and ghostly tableaus that explore memory, place, and identity. The interplay of images illuminates the past's intrinsic and significant role in the present.
– Ada Takahashi
Denmark
Kristine Nydahl
Choke
Denmark
Kristine Nydahl
Choke
At first, I was captivated by the sensual lighting of Kristine Nydahl's self-portrait and the seemingly classical nude form depicted. A closer look revealed braided hair and possibly rope wrapped around the artist's neck. The appearance of ribs on her slender torso seeps into consciousness, reflecting her struggles with body image. This courageous self-portrait is intensely revealing of inner conflict. What at first was an alluring figure study turns into a complex image that conveys disturbing torment lurking below the surface. The exquisite, unfolding image drew me in and held my attention as my interpretation of its significance deepened.
– Ada Takahashi

Selected by Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo
Director, Morán Morán Gallery CDMX
United States
Ralph Pace
Change of the Tides
United States
Ralph Pace
Change of the Tides
Everyone knows the saying "one image is worth a thousand words" and this is exactly what Pace's single photograph transmits. Not only we are reminded of the global Covid situation, but also its greater effect on contamination and thus climate change. The colors and way this photo was taken might make us think of a beautiful dream from far away, but the more we see and analyze what is going on, the more it brings us back to reality.
– Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Guerchom Ndebo
The Eruption of Nyiragongo Volcano
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Guerchom Ndebo
The Eruption of Nyiragongo Volcano
In this photo story, Guerchom Ndebo approaches an ever-menacing situation gone out of control, and shows many interconnected aspects and consequences of a natural disaster affecting the habitants of Goma in Congo. The series shows how a destructive volcanic eruption impacts all aspects of life — the people, their households, surroundings and the dramatically changing natural landscape. Through this specific situation, the photographer exposes how vulnerable we all are to social and climate catastrophes, which are universal and ongoing issues. I was drawn by the aesthetic of his approach, and the intimacy with which he shows the conflict from the point of view of the community and not as a stranger. The use of color and composition elevates his images to a painting-like style. I am definitely interested in delving more into his photographic practice.
– Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo
Poland
Lukasz Korulczyk
Cross
Poland
Lukasz Korulczyk
Cross
Korulzcyk's single 'cinematic' photo, taken from an ascending angle, speaks about the political polarization in Poland. The red sky and darker clothing of the people holding a white illuminated cross at the center of the image makes it a particularly powerful statement to which we can easily relate from other parts of the world. Religion together with politics are relentlessly called out on social media as an inseparable "truths". This photograph has many layers in a single image and makes worth seeing.
– Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo

Selected by Alona Pardo
Curator, Barbican Art Gallery
United States
Karen Navarro
The Constructed Self
United States
Karen Navarro
The Constructed Self
Karen Navarro’s practice explores ideas of selfhood as a social and cultural construct. By transforming two-dimensional prints into sculptural objects, Navarro at once dismantles the essentialist idea of fixed identities while photographically offering her subjects the opportunity to reconstruct their own through her playful and kinetic process. Employing vibrant colors and patterns and geometric constellations, Navarro’s work mimics the shape-shifting nature of identity.
– Alona Pardo
United States
Diane Meyer
Berlin
United States
Diane Meyer
Berlin
Combining cross-stitch embroidery with analogue photography, Diane Meyer’s series Berlin documenting the totality of the 104-mile length of the former Berlin Wall explores the indexicality of photography and the porous nature of memory. Deliberately exploiting the pixelated nature of the cross-stitch as a commentary on digital photography in a post-truth world, Meyer draws attention to the unreliable nature of memory as well as the ways in which memory can distort and transform history through nostalgia. The handsewn quality of the images alludes to ideas of domesticity, intimacy and the personal, and stand in direct contrast to the monumental, muscular and often brutal character of the Berlin Wall that divided Europe along ideological lines during the 20th century.
– Alona Pardo
Germany
Samet Durgun
Come Get Your Honey
Germany
Samet Durgun
Come Get Your Honey
Samet Durgun’s tender photographic study of queer political refugees establishing their lives and claiming collective and individual legitimacy in Berlin speaks of resilience and creativity in the face of adversity. Ranging from close-up shots of his close community of friends, lovers and collaborators to studies of architectural environments that reveal their marginalization, Durgun’s protagonists assume their intersectional positionality with camaraderie, intimacy and respect.
– Alona Pardo

Selected by Andrew Katz
Deputy Director of Photography, TIME
Australia
Louise Coghill
The Fire
Australia
Louise Coghill
The Fire
A February bushfire in Australia destroyed the home of Louise Coghill’s parents. That she lived through it and bore witness to it was a devastating feat; that she courageously chronicled it was a public service as the intersection of society and wildfire intensifies under global warming. Her powerful photographs are at once revelatory and relatable. This happened to her and her parents. As climate change continues unchecked, it could happen to any of us.
– Andrew Katz
Iran
Mehrdad Vahed Yousefabad
Burial of Covid-19 Victim
Iran
Mehrdad Vahed Yousefabad
Burial of Covid-19 Victim
Mehrdad Vahed Yousefabad’s earthly photograph of the burial of a COVID-19 victim in Tabriz, Iran, is both familiar and surreal. Familiar, in the sense that after more than a year and a half of the pandemic and over 4.2 million lives lost, we know exactly what we are seeing. The shape of the bag, the bending of those who are lowering it into the ground. Surreal, in that the white PPE seems to dissolve into the snow and sky around them, the same way that these scenes have dissolved into our collective mind. Just as this body becomes a part of the ground, these moments become a part of us.
– Andrew Katz
United States
Tina Russell
Losing Betty
United States
Tina Russell
Losing Betty
Tina Russell’s photographs before and after the death of her grandmother, Betty, who died as a result of the coronavirus, are intimate evidence of our collective global grief. Millions of families have known this pain during the pandemic and have worked through it in their own ways. Russell’s thoughtful, unflinching images bring you emphatically inside the reality of this loss, even if you haven’t personally experienced it in your own family.
– Andrew Katz

Selected by Anna Goldwater Alexander
Director of Photography, WIRED
United States
Blake Little
Concealed: Portraits of LGBTQ Gun Owners
United States
Blake Little
Concealed: Portraits of LGBTQ Gun Owners
I always try to view a photo series without first reading the artist’s statement just to see if I can tell what's going on or what the photographer's purpose may have been. I couldn't figure out who these subjects were. I love that feeling. I then read who they were and what they represent, and it brought about such incredible emotions for me. I am so obsessed with these portraits.
– Anna Goldwater Alexander
Argentina
Ingrid Weyland
Topographies of Fragility
Argentina
Ingrid Weyland
Topographies of Fragility
I am immediately drawn to this climate and landscape series. Each piece looks like a painting, but I'm so glad that it isn't. I want to see one in person and dare I touch it? I have to know about the crumpled duplicate slice. This is a very, very smart piece of art using beautiful photography.
– Anna Goldwater Alexander
South Africa
Veeddeya Dheda
A Beautiful Veiled Reality
South Africa
Veeddeya Dheda
A Beautiful Veiled Reality
Whether or not it was an incredible fluke that the veil created the most intense filter in this portrait, I don't want to know. I also don't want to know if it's in a studio setting and there were mass c-stands with eight flags clipped everywhere to make this magic happen. I can't stop looking at this portrait!
– Anna Goldwater Alexander

Selected by Caroline Hunter
Picture Editor, Guardian Weekend Magazine
United States
Bob Newman
Shadows of Emmett Till
United States
Bob Newman
Shadows of Emmett Till
There’s an eeriness to these images. In each photograph, we sense the complex layers of American history — faded in some, but always present. I was drawn to their quiet cinematic quality and the fact that each image feels so timeless. Themes of abandonment, race and inequality run through this series, while giving its subjects the dignity and space they deserve.
– Caroline Hunter
United Kingdom
Todd Antony
Flying Stars - Amputee Footballers of Sierra Leone
United Kingdom
Todd Antony
Flying Stars - Amputee Footballers of Sierra Leone
There are so many elements to these photographs that I admire - particularly the light and mist that conceal and enhance the beauty and determination of the athletes. We feel their physicality and strength, despite their all having experienced trauma first-hand.
– Caroline Hunter
Palestine
Mohammed Zaanoun
Birthday Celebration Over Destroyed House
Palestine
Mohammed Zaanoun
Birthday Celebration Over Destroyed House
I liked the contrast between the excited expressions on the children’s faces and the quiet determination of a father placing a candle on a cake to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Against a backdrop of rubble where their home once stood, we witness joy and human resilience.
– Caroline Hunter

Selected by Chloe Coleman
International + Outlook Photo Editor, Washington Post
United States
Julie Hamel
Altered Negatives
United States
Julie Hamel
Altered Negatives
This image is a beautiful example of contemporary abstractionism in photography, while using historical techniques. The work expresses the contrast between the natural world and human-made, with the soft organic lines of nature interrupted by the sharp edges of the artist’s alterations, all within a balanced composition.
– Chloe Coleman
China
Wei Wei 卫嵬
Bailizhou
China
Wei Wei 卫嵬
Bailizhou
This series shows the possibilities that exist when a photographer explores a community close to home, stories that might be overlooked by those less familiar with the area. The details that he focused on are darkly whimsical, giving a sense of life on this island as well as perhaps hinting at the personality of the photographer himself.
– Chloe Coleman
Trinidad and Tobago
Kelly-Ann Bobb
Sacred Bodies
Trinidad and Tobago
Kelly-Ann Bobb
Sacred Bodies
As a news photo editor, I am often working with photographs that require the viewer to look into them. This tender portrait is looking out at the viewer in confrontation. But there’s a warm invitation to be found in this confrontation. The body language, expressions of the couple, and the deep colors all contribute to this warmth. It’s a photograph I kept coming back to, each time discovering more layers.
– Chloe Coleman

Selected by Chris Pichler
Founder and Publisher, Nazraeli Press
Japan
Masumi Shiohara
Identification of Fruits: As a Fruit Farmer and Breeder
Japan
Masumi Shiohara
Identification of Fruits: As a Fruit Farmer and Breeder
At first glance, the photomontages of Masumi Shiohara appear to be about specific varieties of certain fruits. In fact, the images and the underlying project itself are about absolutely everything. Without sustenance there is no life, and without beauty there is no art. While any number of the projects I viewed for this competition are about themes that might seem more timely than the details of certain varieties of grapes, pears, plums, peaches and apples, in the end this competition is about photography. Masumi Shiohara is a farmer, and fruit breeder, and grew the subjects of these montages himself. He utilizes photography in a visually striking and disarmingly sophisticated manner, choosing as his subject something he is deeply knowledgeable about, and which is relevant to all of us.
– Chris Pichler
Japan
Kazuaki Koseki
Summer Fairies
Japan
Kazuaki Koseki
Summer Fairies
Kazuaki Koseki has produced a number of series about the landscape of Yamagata and Tohoku, Japan. All of his projects that I have seen are compelling, and all are about the artist’s desire to evoke, as he puts it, “the five senses through the four seasons”. The project I have selected for one of my Critics’ Picks is entitled “Summer Fairies”. In this work, the magic of photography and the magic of fireflies (in this case, the ‘Himebotaru’ indigenous to Japan) are woven together to create some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. Photography and fireflies are not really magical. There are many ways to express through photography the urgent responsibility we face to protect our world. The photographs of Kazuaki Koseki achieve this responsibility through conjuring awe in the viewer.
– Chris Pichler
United Kingdom
Jayne Jackson
Asking For It
United Kingdom
Jayne Jackson
Asking For It
It is hard for me to imagine a subject more difficult to photograph than that of sexual violence. And I generally am not a fan of staged photographs. Jayne Jackson’s work showed me again the importance of looking at things as they are on their own, and not as just a part of a genre. I think that anybody who looks at this entry (and the larger body of work from which it was culled) and reads the accompanying text will know more than they did before. It was one visually striking single image that made me want to see and learn more. What more could be asked for from a photography project?
– Chris Pichler

Selected by Elena Boille
Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Photo Editor, Internazionale
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
In his ongoing Flesh Love series, Photographer Hal, aka Haruhiko Kawaguchi, vacuum-packs people. Literally. Naked couples in a bathtub, fully clothed couples in everyday settings and, now, whole families with their surroundings. The main purpose of Hal’s work is to affirm the importance of love and to explore the intimacy and the desire of a unique and supreme connection with the other. But if looking at his images could already make us feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic before the pandemic, now the lack of air experienced by his subjects for the shot (about 10 or 20 seconds) becomes prophetic. Inevitably, the photographer has to deal with the so-called elusiveness of meaning. If prior to Covid-19, we could think about suffocating forms of love or symbiotic relationships, now we think about the disease shortening our breath, the need for protection from the contagion, the lack of socialization. Sometimes images have an independent life from the intention of their creator. That’s their weakness and, at the same time, their incredible strength.
– Elena Boille
Japan
Masumi Shiohara
Identification of Fruits: As a Fruit Farmer and Breeder
Japan
Masumi Shiohara
Identification of Fruits: As a Fruit Farmer and Breeder
Ancient and contemporary botanical illustration has achieved such levels of perfection that it is not easy for photographers to compete with this form of art, one that requires profound scientific expertise and a refined aesthetic sense. Masumi Shiohara took up the challenge and started to photograph the plants and fruits of his family’s orchard. A former engineer, he’s now a farmer and breeder and he uses photography to document the new varieties of fruit he creates and to keep record of the ones disappearing. Thanks to the right light, every element emerges gracefully from the dark, as a revelation. And while we admire every single detail, we think with melancholy about the wonder of nature we’re losing.
– Elena Boille
Ireland
Joseph-Philippe Bevillard
Mincéirs
Ireland
Joseph-Philippe Bevillard
Mincéirs
It could be a scene from a 1960s movie: a group of elegant men and boys, dressed in jackets with waistcoats, is apparently waiting for something. In the foreground, three of the men are making the exact same gesture. They are caught on camera in the moment they are inhaling the smoke of their cigarettes. The resulting spontaneous choreography makes the scene fascinating and funny. To capture those “decisive moments,” it’s really not just a matter of chance. To be in the right place at the right moment usually requires a huge amount of time and work. It’s no surprise then that Bevillard has been photographing the Irish Travellers’ daily life for the past eleven years. And with this photo, he invites the viewer to the wedding the group is going to celebrate.
– Elena Boille

Selected by Elisa Medde
Editor-in-Chief, FOAM Magazine
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
Kai Yokoyama’s work is compelling and multilayered research. Combining archival images, text and his own photography, he addresses his family history and personal history, drawing a picture that speaks for both an intimate and historical series of events.
– Elisa Medde
United States
Naomieh Jovin
Gathering
United States
Naomieh Jovin
Gathering
Naomieh Jovin addresses issues of trauma, healing, family history and diaspora narratives by modifying archival images and narratives to reflect personal memories. Jovin’s work is deep and layered research into what photography can do, and she explores and activates the immense potential of the medium.
– Elisa Medde
United States
Dawn Roe
Conditions for an Unfinished Work of Mourning: Wretched Yew
United States
Dawn Roe
Conditions for an Unfinished Work of Mourning: Wretched Yew
Dawn Roe’s work is a complex visual exploration of our relationship with places and topography, the dramatic consequences of climate change and the traces inflicted on earth, and our absolute dependency on nature not only to survive, but to heal.
– Elisa Medde
How are the Top Ten chosen? Photographers who were selected by more than one critic or had the highest cumulative ratings of all submissions became our Top Ten. They will each receive a $1000 grant in recognition of their work.
Selected by Enrico Stefanelli
Artistic Director, Photolux Festival
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
I was drawn to Photographer Hal’s work for the originality of his project, and for the artist’s skill in coherently aligning the idea and its realization based on the times in which we are living.
– Enrico Stefanelli
Russian Federation
Dmitry Ersler
Mother and Daughter
Russian Federation
Dmitry Ersler
Mother and Daughter
Dmitry Ersler’s skillful image construction and excellent control of light, shadow, and contrast on the scene drew me to his work.
– Enrico Stefanelli
Argentina
Eduardo Saperas
Paisajes Cercanos
Argentina
Eduardo Saperas
Paisajes Cercanos
Eduardo Saperas has made a dreamlike and well-crafted image, perfectly balancing the light inside the window with the illuminated shrub in the foreground.
– Enrico Stefanelli

Selected by Eslah Attar
Photo Editor, New York Times
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
Japan
Photographer Hal
Flesh Love All
Photographer Hal’s portraits are unconventional and bizarrely beautiful. His work combines the physical with intangible moments in time. As time barrels forward without waiting for anyone or anything, these photos attempt to immortalize memory.
– Eslah Attar
Italy
Niki Genchi
Daniel
Italy
Niki Genchi
Daniel
In Niki Genchi’s portrait of Daniel, the direct eye contact and body language pulls the viewer in. The flower held in-between Daniel’s fingertips conveys a sense of delicacy and vulnerability at a time when Black men face the pressures of looking and acting a certain way.
– Eslah Attar
Denmark
Jonathan Lieb
Places We Used to Smoke
Denmark
Jonathan Lieb
Places We Used to Smoke
Uniforms, braces and smoking behind school buildings might not be everyone’s shared high school experience, but as photographer Jonathan Lieb writes, those years can often be a “confusing paradox of wanting to belong to a group while becoming an individual within the world.” Lieb's work reminds us that coming of age is a universal experience — it is a feeling we can all relate to.
– Eslah Attar

Selected by Irina Chmyreva
Art Director, PhotoVisa International Festival of Photography
Canada
Daniel Skwarna
Desert Dweller
Canada
Daniel Skwarna
Desert Dweller
The aesthetic of Mad Max isn't far from reality. Daniel Skwarna's works, both color (as in this series) and black-and-white, reflect the energy of anarchism and tender pleasure of its moments. His images stir up jealousy in the viewer to be there, to feel and experience what the photographer has. His art is full of empathy; he makes the smells and noises continue to exist (still hot) in the images.
– Irina Chmyreva
Italy
Barbara Zanon
Filling the Void
Italy
Barbara Zanon
Filling the Void
Cinematographic, these images feel full of nostalgia. You might say this artist is not the first to connect old images with her own snapshots, and that's very true. But Barbara Zanon creates, not the form, but the formula of memories. Within her collages, the large figures and heads obscure and overlap the landscape, they obstruct our ability to enter the images, they stop us at the border of the frame. As a result, the construction of the collages is interactive. Zanon's photographs are not plain and calm, they are vibrantly active.
– Irina Chmyreva
United Kingdom
Sarah Ketelaars
Windows
United Kingdom
Sarah Ketelaars
Windows
This year, while jurying the contest, I experienced a rare occurrence. I saw photographs that I could have taken myself: Sarah Ketelaars’s images from spring 2020 in Houston. I remember the mood of the city at that time, when all of the reviewers at FotoFest got up on the same day and urgently tried to flee the city, which had closed for the first lockdown. The deep sensation of a curtain or windowpane between familiar reality and myself marked the beginning of pandemic. The different value of simple moments, of conversations and the gestures of loved ones, and the cosmic silence outside permeate my memory. In Sarah Ketelaars’s work, I recognize my own memories. That is one of the mysteries of art, being so in tune with us. I highly appreciate it for this consonance.
– Irina Chmyreva

Selected by Jim Casper
Editor-in-Chief, LensCulture
Italy
Niki Genchi
Daniel
Italy
Niki Genchi
Daniel
This portrait is disarming and instantly breaks the stereotype of young Black men as they are often presented in the media. Daniel, a 17-year-old athlete, rapper and model, seems to express a world of emotions as he engages directly with the camera and us — defiance, vulnerability, hope, weariness, serenity, strength and beauty. It’s amazing that one photograph can convey such complexity so effectively.
– Jim Casper
United States
Julie Hamel
Altered Negatives
United States
Julie Hamel
Altered Negatives
Julie Hamel is using the medium of film photography in interesting tactile ways to explore heady concepts like (faulty) memories, perception and loss. Her images are quirky, challenging visual puzzles that are attractive at first glance, and then continually seductive as the viewer tries to unravel all that is there (and not there). I like the way this work pushes at the limits of the medium while welcoming “chance” to give each resulting image even more mystery and a lasting charge.
– Jim Casper
Canada
TJ Watt
Caycuse Before & After Logging
Canada
TJ Watt
Caycuse Before & After Logging
The notion of “before and after” has a long history in photography — communicating in a glance what words can rarely accomplish so thoroughly. These recent photos from old-growth forests on Vancouver Island are profoundly disturbing. In pictures made just months apart, they shock the viewer by contrasting the beauty and majesty of spectacular old trees, to the complete devastation of the same trees as a result of massive clear-cutting by big industry.

The photographer, TJ Watt, writes: “It was gut-wrenching to retrace my steps and photograph the remains of those same ancient trees I once knew. But I felt it was necessary to expose the destruction that others like them still face.”
– Jim Casper

Selected by Joanna Milter
Director of Photography, The New Yorker
United States
Hannah Altman
A Permanent Home In the Mouth of the Sun
United States
Hannah Altman
A Permanent Home In the Mouth of the Sun
For her series “A Permanent Home in the Mouth of the Sun,” Hannah Altman uses conceptual photography to explore themes from the Jewish diaspora. Her subjects wear or play with religious or folkloric objects such as Shabbos candles, tefillin, and a hamsa. Some frames are shaded in amber, evoking the setting sun. Each image works like a memory, with both crystalline details and a dreamy unsettlement.
– Joanna Milter
Australia
Marzena Wasikowska
Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011 - 2021
Australia
Marzena Wasikowska
Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011 - 2021
In Marzena Wasikowska’s lively series “Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011 - 2021,” the photographer’s adult children, her mother, her aunt, and her grandchildren all make appearances. The negotiation involves getting her subjects to pose at the same time, but Wasikowska purposely captures those instances before everyone is in place. Yet she understands that the presence of a photographer changes everything; even in seemingly offhand moments, her subjects are performing for her camera.
– Joanna Milter
United States
Tavon Taylor
Foliage
United States
Tavon Taylor
Foliage
“Charles in His Living Room” is part of Tavon Taylor’s series “Foliage.” The subject is in the mermaid yoga pose; the power of the photo comes from his supple grace and his direct gaze at the viewer. A mysterious and riveting image.
– Joanna Milter

Selected by Manolis Moresopoulos
Director, Athens Photo Festival
United States
Diane Meyer
Berlin
United States
Diane Meyer
Berlin
Diane Meyer’s Berlin series is an imaginative exploration into collective memory and the construction of history through a contemporary lens. She’s created a compelling project that powerfully offers a new perspective about the wall that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, thus linking past and present. By combining the images with embroidered pixels, she creates a metaphorical and material connection with the traces and layers of history, exploring the interaction between what is visible and non-visible, between what is left behind and what no longer exists.
– Manolis Moresopoulos
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
Through an eclectic mix of created imagery and pictures from his family archives, Kai Yokoyama is interested in the past and present, truth and fiction, the personal and collective, and the relationships between them. As he narrates his quest to reshape his own memory, he reflects upon the passage of time, urges and fears, and destinies, combining them in a quiet and melancholic meditation on his personal history.
– Manolis Moresopoulos
United States
Hannah Altman
A Permanent Home In the Mouth of the Sun
United States
Hannah Altman
A Permanent Home In the Mouth of the Sun
Hannah Altman’s work beautifully attempts to interpret relationships between gestures, the female body, Jewish memory, diaspora and collective identity, and it represents for me a powerful metaphor. By performing for the camera, she found a way to recreate rituals and narratives, influenced by Judaic tradition and folklore tales.
– Manolis Moresopoulos

Selected by Robert Morat
Owner, Robert Morat Galerie
United Kingdom
Lydia Goldblatt
Fugue
United Kingdom
Lydia Goldblatt
Fugue
Of the many domestic confinement projects that were submitted this year, Lydia Goldbaltt’s photographs struck me as a poetic, tender look at childhood and family life. The images are beautifully crafted, a wonderful sense of humor inhabits them, and they will stay with me.
– Robert Morat
Spain
Alex Llovet
The Time Between
Spain
Alex Llovet
The Time Between
Alex Llovet’s photograph shows his daughter Adele, holding a painted portrait of her great-grandfather's father. The painting is fully covering the girl, only her legs are visible. The image made me think of the different aspects of what “family“ is: identity, memory, legacy, heritage, reassurance, but also pressure and expectations. I thought of these aspects long after looking at the picture. In fact, we even discussed them over dinner. The stories we are told of our ancestors are not so much based in the truth, but are rather designed to build family narratives. I found that realization to be liberating — and quite an achievement for a single photograph.
– Robert Morat
United Kingdom
Hannah Norton
Twenty Seconds to Safety
United Kingdom
Hannah Norton
Twenty Seconds to Safety
A good number of submitted projects this year dealt with mental health. Hannah Norton found a visual representation for the difficult, multilayered workings of depression and anxiety disorder. She made it possible to relate and to learn about the condition through a collaboration with her subject. She took strong, very personal, intimate black-and-white portraits of her sister, who in March 2020 had developed OCD. In a second step, her sister then added confetti colored dots, describing the multifaceted variety of emotions she goes through. These images moved me and I learned a lot.
– Robert Morat

Selected by Whitney Johnson
Vice President, Visuals and Immersive Experiences, National Geographic
United States
Naomieh Jovin
Gathering
United States
Naomieh Jovin
Gathering
It was the expression of the man at the head of the table who caught my attention, at first: What is he thinking? Yet this photograph provokes so many questions – about presence and absence; about a history told, and a history erased. Who is allowed to remain in this image? And who is not, reduced to an outline of their former selves? Naomieh Jovins, who cites her experiences growing up as a first-generation Haitian American as influential to her work, combines images appropriated from family albums with her own photograph to reflect on her personal history.
– Whitney Johnson
United Kingdom
Nina Franco
Sobre(viver)
United Kingdom
Nina Franco
Sobre(viver)
In this installation piece, mixed-media artist and activist Nina Franco explores gender violence and femicide. As she writes, “Violence – whether it’s social, emotional, cultural, sexual, physical, economic, or psychological – unites all women in a single thread.” Here, red yarn is used to evoke the violence that impacts so many women, to make visible the cruelty – but also to show this connection between them.
– Whitney Johnson
Netherlands
Susan Leurs
Bullying
Netherlands
Susan Leurs
Bullying
I was struck by the directness of these images. Using a Hasselblad camera, Susan Leurs has made more than 175 portraits over the last five years as part of a series she calls “Bullying”. Press further and you learn that the images portray the bullied and the bullies, the victims and the aggressors, asking viewers to confront their own biases about who a bully really is.
– Whitney Johnson

Selected by Xavier Soule
Owner, Agence VU & Gallery VU
United States
Lee Day
Clipping Suburbia - Japan
United States
Lee Day
Clipping Suburbia - Japan
At the end of the 19th century, the speed of trains expanded the breadth of the gaze, inventing the panorama as we know it. Today, time is no longer measured by the speed of objects passing, but by the deluge of digital images continually appearing before our eyes in an appalling, unreadable density. Every day we enter further into that complexity, only grasping snippets of reality. Lee Day’s disrupted images show us this exact confusion of the eye, freezing the gaze so that we might understand. To see is to know much more than any narrative can convey. This work is one of exceptional technical perfection.
– Xavier Soule
Belgium
Steve Dean Mendes
Emotions In Between Emotions
Belgium
Steve Dean Mendes
Emotions In Between Emotions
Nothing is said in Steve Dean Mendes’s portraits except the fascinating dialogue of glances meeting. He captures the unvarnished gazes of subjects bleached by raw light and the frozen gaze of the lens meeting theirs. The smooth faces in his portraits are opalescent and motionless like stone. Serious and deep like icons of a forgotten time, these images are as surprising as they are concerning. When photography frees itself from its theatricality, as Mendes’s images do, it can become a kind of portraiture the way painting was long ago.
– Xavier Soule
Norway
Øyvind Hjelmen
Broken Shadow
Norway
Øyvind Hjelmen
Broken Shadow
Øyvind Hjelmen conveys a bewitching passion for light that discerns its subjects without defining them. The play of bodies, materials, and shapes creates a kind of memento, but one that is not based on anyone’s memory. The calm silence of this image tells us what we ourselves know about the pain, joy, or suffering of being in the world. And when this world is still, as in this image, we savor the fullness of our gaze which beholds the moment as an eternity. Can we believe that the inhabited solitude of this image is incredibly topical, with so many moments like this suspended by Covid?
– Xavier Soule

Selected by Yumi Goto
Curator, Reminders Photography Stronghold
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
Japan
Kai Yokoyama
The Day You Were Born, I Wasn't Born Yet
When you think about the history of how you came to be born, you realize that it is something so precious that it can only be described as a "miracle." In this work, we can feel the deepest feelings for the life that was born from this miracle.
– Yumi Goto
United Kingdom
James Naylor
Do I Pass?
United Kingdom
James Naylor
Do I Pass?
By capturing and interpreting his gender identity in Polaroids, James Naylor is able to show us both what people in society "expect" him to be (in this case, a white cisgender hetero male) and his own unique personality. We can see his struggle and physical and mental transformation. I was very impressed with the way that struggle was presented in an everyday way.
– Yumi Goto
United States
Peggy Washburn
Precisely Now
United States
Peggy Washburn
Precisely Now
I am sure that many different works have been created about the Coronavirus pandemic. In this lyric series, we see the personal experiences of the artist and her family through infection with Covid. The isolation brought about by the pandemic has made the artist's sensibility more sensitive and her eyes more observant. It is the same gaze that has been applied to the works she has created in the past, which ultimately resulted in these works.
– Yumi Goto
“The body of work at LensCulture, at this time, in this moment, is so reflective of our world. It’s a joy to experience such a large group of unique visual voices as well as a wide range of methodologies in visual storytelling.”
Vanja Bucan
Winner, Critics’ Choice 2020
Meet our International Jury
Each critic selected three personal favorites.
Ada Takahashi
Principal
Robert Koch Gallery
United States

Ada Takahashi is a principal with the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco. She joined the gallery in 1986. Takahashi focuses on the gallery’s curatorial efforts, liaising with artists, and on the gallery’s presence at international art fairs. The Koch Gallery program emphasizes contemporary photography as well as experimental work from the 1920s and 1930s. In recent years, the gallery’s exhibitions have included work by Edward Burtynsky, Michael Wolf, Robert Heinecken, Kenneth Josephson, Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, Tamas Dezso, and Mimi Plumb. The contemporary program is shaped by a desire to expand the dialogue around significant aesthetic and social issues of our time, an aim that is shared by many of the gallery’s artists.

Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo
Director
Morán Morán Gallery CDMX
Mexico

Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo (B. 1985, Mexico City) is a Mexican-Italian independent curator and director of Morán Morán Gallery in Mexico City. She received her BA in Film and Television from CENTRO University in 2008. Her professional experience begins with working in the film and documentary industry, mostly in production. Her interest in the convergence of cinema with other artistic disciplines led her to a curatorial position at the Cineteca Nacional: the conception, curatorship, management and programming of Room 7, a project dedicated to approach and reflect on cinema through multimedia exhibitions. In addition, she was curatorial assistant and development coordinator for the inaugural exhibition at the Cineteca Nacional’s Cinema Museum, now La Galería. She was also curatorial assistant and development coordinator for the Mexico Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, represented by Ariel Guzik and curated by Itala Schmelz. In 2015, she was an apprentice curator at the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, where she worked with Mentor Joseph Melillo during a year of mentoring exchange. From 2013 till 2016 She was the curator and exhibition coordinator at the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City in which she was part of the Research and Curatorial Seminar: Technology, Audiovisual Media and Artistic Experimentation, where she curated the Niérika: Lilly Archive exhibition together with Anahí Luna and Arden Decker. A few other curatorial projects include Fotomuro vol. I, vol. II (collectives) and 1440 by Diego Berruecos; Casa Estudiantil Octubre Rojo with photographer Eunice Adorno at the Tlatelolco Cultural Center as well as Desandar in collaboration with the same photographer in the Museo de la Ciudad de México; Sentido de Forma, a collective show organized for Fundación CALOSA in Irapuato.

Alona Pardo
Curator
Barbican Art Gallery
United Kingdom

Alona Pardo has been a Curator at Barbican Art Gallery in London for nearly 15 years. With a focus on photography and film, she has curated a number of exhibitions and publications including most recently Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020); Trevor Paglen: From Apple to Anomaly (2019); Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing (2018); Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds (2018); Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (2018); Richard Mosse: Incoming (2017) and Strange and Familiar: Britain as seen by International Photographers (with Martin Parr; 2016). She has a particular interest in work that exists in the intersection between social activism, aesthetics and identity.

Andrew Katz
Deputy Director of Photography
TIME
United States

Andrew Katz is the Deputy Director of Photography at TIME. He co-manages a team of editors; assigns and collaborates with photographers around the world; pitches and produces covers, photo essays and features; and curates @time’s Instagram account. He came to TIME in 2013 as a reporter and later served as a news editor. Since joining the photography department in 2015, he has supported photojournalists on (or above) every continent and produced portraits with more than a dozen presidents and prime ministers, the U.N. Secretary-General and the Dalai Lama. The resulting work has been recognized by the American Society of Magazine Editors, World Press Photo, Visa pour l'Image, Overseas Press Club, Pictures of the Year International and more. In 2021, he was a POYi finalist for Visual Editor of the Year.

Anna Goldwater Alexander
Director of Photography
WIRED
United States

Anna Alexander is Director of Photography at WIRED in San Francisco. She’s been producing photo shoots and commissioning WIRED photographers for approximately twenty years. She took a hiatus from WIRED as the Photo Director at Dwell from 2011-2013. Anna has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the University of Arizona. Anna resides in the Marin County city of Novato with her husband and two children.

Caroline Hunter
Picture Editor
Guardian Weekend Magazine
United Kingdom

Caroline Hunter is a picture editor for The Guardian Weekend magazine. Caroline has 20 years experience of commissioning photography (from concept to celebrity, portraiture, still-life, beauty, fashion and documentary photography) and reviewing photo-essays and proposals. Caroline is regularly invited to review portfolios at international photo festivals and has also acted as a judge for a number of photography competitions. In 2017, she was a nominator for the Deutsche Börse prize.

Chloe Coleman
International + Outlook Photo Editor
Washington Post
United States

Chloe Coleman is an award-winning photo editor at The Washington Post, currently on the international news desk working with photographers worldwide. She is a contributing writer and editor on the Washington Post’s In Sight photo blog where she has written about and featured contemporary photography, photo books and exhibitions. Her career in photo editing began on the visual desk at NPR, followed by The Denver Post. She attended the Columbus College of Art and Design and is a graduate of the photojournalism program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Chloe also serves as a faculty member at The Kalish Visual Editing Workshop.

Chris Pichler
Founder and Publisher
Nazraeli Press
United States

Chris Pichler founded Nazraeli Press in Munich, Germany in 1989. In 1997, the press moved to the United States and in 2002 opened a subsidiary in the United Kingdom. Nazraeli Press has published over 500 books on the fine and applied arts with an emphasis on contemporary photography. The books are distributed throughout the world. Pichler edits and designs most of the books published by Nazraeli. He is known for his unorthodox use of common materials—such as papers, wood, plastic, metals—and for introducing elements of handiwork into otherwise mass-produced objects. The press’s award-winning books have themselves been the subject of exhibitions and books about books.

Elena Boille
Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Photo Editor
Internazionale
Italy

Elena Boille is deputy editor-in-chief and photo editor of the magazine Internazionale. Boille graduated with a degree in history of art and she co-founded, in 1993, the Italian news magazine Internazionale. She has judged many photo competitions and participated in portfolio reviews; Boille also teaches photo editing workshops and taught a photo editing class at Luiss Business School in Rome.

Internazionale is a weekly magazine that selects and translates the best journalistic stories from around the world and brings them to an Italian-speaking audience. Every issue features a photographic portfolio, which focuses mainly on long-term projects. Along with photojournalistic and documentary stories, it publishes personal works, conceptual series and more.

Elisa Medde
Editor-in-Chief
FOAM Magazine
The Netherlands

Elisa Medde edits, curates and writes about photography. With a background in Art History, Iconology and Photographic Studies, her research reflects on the relationship between image, communication and power structures. She has been nominator for the Prix Elysée, The Leica Oskar Barnack Award and MAST Foundation for Photography Grant, amongst others. Elisa has chaired numerous juries and written for Foam Magazine, Something We Africans Got, Vogue Italia / L'Uomo Vogue, YET Magazine and other publications. Elisa is Editor-in-Chief of Foam Magazine, Amsterdam.

Enrico Stefanelli
Artistic Director
Photolux Festival
Italy

Enrico Stefanelli is the founder and artistic director of Photolux Festival, the biennial of photography in Lucca, Italy. He has curated several exhibitions including: Tim Hetherington, Jan Saudek, Horst P. Horst, VII Agency, Nobuyoshy Araki, Boris Mikhailov and David Douglas Duncan. Since 2010, he is the Italian curator of the European Photo Exhibition Award. Enrico is a photographer and journalist and teaches photography in workshops. He has written articles and contributions on photography for several catalogs, books and magazines. He participates in portfolio reviews around the world, serves on international photography juries, and is a member of the nominating committee for the Joop Swart Masterclass at World Press Photo.

Eslah Attar
Photo Editor
New York Times
United States

Eslah Attar is a visual storyteller from the suburbs of Ohio where she studied photojournalism and documented immigration in her community. Prior to joining The New York Times as a photo editing fellow, she worked at National Geographic as an associate photo editor. Before then, she worked at National Public Radio as a photo editor and photographer.

Irina Chmyreva
Art Director
PhotoVisa International Festival of Photography
Russia

Irina Chmyreva is Co-founder and Artistic Director of PhotoVisa, Russia’s largest, international photography biennial outside Moscow. PhotoVisa had taken place since 2008 every October in city Krasnodar (South of Russia), since 2020 the festival has biennial format. The festival consists of an extensive exhibition program, international portfolio review, multimedia projections, lectures, workshops and an international juried contest. The PhotoVisa contest is still annual and free of charge, it is announced at web-site.
Irina has curated more than a hundred exhibitions worldwide. During past years she collaborated with several state and private museums in Moscow and other Russian cities, where she presented both national and international contemporary artists. From 2011 to 2015, she was the senior curator of Project in Support for Photography in Russia run by the IRIS Foundation. Irina was also part of the international team of curators who organized the FotoFest 2012 Biennial, Contemporary Russian Photography: 1950s-2012 in Houston, USA. In 2014, Irina was a jury member for the Hasselblad Award. For twelve years she was a member of the international editorial board for the independent art magazine European Photography.
For the past eleven years Irina has been working as a leading researcher (Ph.D.) at the Russian Academy of Arts, National Institute of Theory and History of Art, Moscow. She is teaching in Russian and foreign high-schools and university programs on photo editing and visual communication. As photo editor, Irina has been involved in several book projects and has published a great number of portfolios in different offline and online resources.

Jim Casper
Editor-in-Chief
LensCulture
The Netherlands

Jim Casper is the editor-in-chief of LensCulture, one of the leading online destinations to discover contemporary photography from around the world. As an active member in the contemporary photography world, Casper organizes annual international photography events, travels around the world to meet with photographers and review their portfolios, curates art exhibitions, writes about photography and culture, lectures, conducts workshops, serves as an international juror and nominator for key awards, and is an advisor to arts and education organizations.

Joanna Milter
Director of Photography
The New Yorker
United States

Joanna Milter is the director of photography for The New Yorker, overseeing all photography for the print and digital versions of the magazine, in addition to Photo Booth, the magazine’s photo blog. Since she joined The New Yorker, in 2015, the magazine’s photography has been recognized by World Press Photo, the Society of Publication Designers, and American Photography, and has received a National Magazine Award for Feature Photography.

Previously, Joanna spent eleven years as a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine; for the last four of those years, she was the deputy photo editor.

Manolis Moresopoulos
Director
Athens Photo Festival
Greece

Since 2010, Manolis Moresopoulos has been the artistic director of the Athens Photo Festival, a leading international festival of photography and visual culture. In and beyond this role, Manolis has been responsible for numerous exhibitions and photography-related activities, including book projects, learning activities, artist exchange programs, and talent development initiatives. Over the past few years he has served as nominator, juror and reviewer for many international festivals and organisations, and regularly lectures on the theory and practice of photography. Manolis is always looking for new or emerging artists working with photography for possible future collaborations.

Mirjam Cavegn
Owner
Bildhalle Gallery
Switzerland

Mirjam Cavegn is the founder of Bildhalle, one of the most respected galleries for photography in Switzerland. Interested in both established and emerging innovative contemporary photographers, Mirjam shapes an ambitious gallery program through solo and group exhibitions as well as participation in international art fairs. Previously, she developed photo books for international publishing houses and was photo editor for various media companies.

Robert Morat
Owner
Robert Morat Galerie
Germany

Robert Morat is the owner and director of Robert Morat Gallery in Berlin. The gallery program focuses on emerging and mid-career positions in contemporary photography, representing artists such aa Christian Patterson, Ron Jude, Jessica Backhaus, Bertien van Manen, Hans Christian Schink, Lia Darjes, Mårten Lange, Simon Roberts, Andrea Grützner and many others. Robert, an art historian, went to Journalism School and started out as an editor working for magazines, newspapers and TV. He opened the gallery in Hamburg in 2004 and started showing at international art fairs in 2007. Today, the gallery is a regular exhibitor at art fairs such as PARIS PHOTO, UNSEEN Amsterdam or Photo London. In 2009, Robert became a member of AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, and served as a director and member of the board from 2010 to 2015. In 20015 the gallery relocated to Berlin and is found today on Linienstrasse in the Mitte art district, showing an alternating program of represented artists, guest exhibitors (John Divola (2019), Max Pinckers (2020)), book presentations and artist talks.

Whitney Johnson
Vice President, Visuals and Immersive Experiences
National Geographic
United States

Whitney Johnson is the Vice President of Visuals and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic. Prior to that she worked at the Open Society Foundations. She has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and the International Center of Photography.

Xavier Soule
Owner
Agence VU & Gallery VU
France

Xavier Soule is the CEO of Abvent Group and president and director of Agence VU’, one of the most renowned agencies and galleries for photographers in France and Europe. The aim of Galerie VU’ is to affirm, on the walls, the diversity of contemporary stylistic photographic approaches, and to compare and contrast current viewpoints, so they can dialogue with their differences. Galerie VU’ works like any other commercial gallery: it is simultaneously a space for exhibiting and selling collectors’ editions, offering monograph approaches as well as hosting authors’ dialogues, group and thematic approaches. As a collector himself, Xavier is interested in a wide array of photography. From art pieces to documentary reports, he is particularly interested in cutting-edge photojournalism and contemporary photography that offer innovative approaches to expand our visual understanding of the world, people and light.

Yumi Goto
Curator
Reminders Photography Stronghold
Japan

Yumi Goto is an independent photography curator, editor, researcher, consultant, educator and publisher who focuses on the development of cultural exchanges that transcend borders.

She collaborates with local and international artists who live and work in areas affected by conflict, natural disasters, current social problems, human rights abuses and women’s issues. She often works with human rights advocates, international and local NGOs, and humanitarian organizations as well as being involved as a nominator and juror for international photographic organizations, festivals and events.

She is now based in Tokyo and is also a co-founder and curator for the Reminders Photography Stronghold, which is a curated membership gallery space in Tokyo enabling a wide range of photographic activities.

Thank You!

Congratulations to all 49 winning photographers! And sincere thanks to every photographer who participated, and to each of the experts who contributed their time and expertise.

Now Open: LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2021! Entries close August 25, 2021.
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