Hong Kong photographer Chan Kwok Hung bought his first DSLR camera in 2006. Within a year, he had won his first award and has since gone on to be recognised in competitions worldwide, including being awarded the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards Open Photographer of the Year title in 2011.
Hung talks to D-Photo about what inspires his work and how he shot his latest winning image which was placed first in the Open Nature & Wildlife category of the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards.
D-Photo: How do you describe your work and your style of photography?
I think of photography as a pictorial expression. I would like to draw but am not good in drawing at all, so I fulfil myself by photographing my subjects instead.
How did you start out in photography? Who or what inspired you?
I learnt basic photography from books and the internet. I started photographing landscapes and night scenes, and was also interested in travel photography. When I first started, I photographed subjects that everyone was taking, but after a few months I grew tired of it, as my images looked the same as everyone else’s. When I started travelling to less-developed countries, I began to notice things that couldn’t be easily found in a city. Although these places don’t have luxury hotels or other expensive things, I discovered great harmony between people and there was sincere friendship. It was this that I wanted to capture – the smiles on people’s faces. I wanted to find out more about the way people lived. I hope to share my feelings, through my images, with people all over the world.
Do you have a particular type or genre of images that fascinates you and if so, why?
I like street portraiture and sports. Especially, some unique sports like bull fighting, buffalo race, chicken fighting, duck race… because these kind of images are more fun, they tend to have a greater impact and catch your attention.
Who is your favourite photographer?
You have found success in the wildlife genre,these photographers seems to take a long time to build up their work since there is a lot of travelling and waiting, has this been a challenge?
Yes, wildlife photos need patience and travelling time. I am not that kind person, so I have very few wildlife photos.
What gives you the most satisfaction in Wildlife photography?
It’s the unpredictability. It is also different from other kinds of photography – maybe you can have some fantastic photos, or maybe you may get nothing at all despite waiting for very a long time.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring photographers who wish to enter the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards?
If you are a professional photographer, you can get a lot of exposure. If you are an amateur photographer like me, you can get some prize money for your next photo trip, and you can be on the stage to be applauded by a few thousand people. It’s gratifying, isn’t? So don’t just sit and talk, make the dream come true.
For more information about Chan Kwok Hung go to www.chankwokhung.com and for more information on the Sony World Photography Awards visit www.worldphoto.org.
Images: Top - Chan Kwok Hung, Hong Kong, Overall Open Winner, 2011 Sony World Photography Awards. Bottom - Chan Kwok Hung, Hong Kong, Open Nature& Wildlife Shortlist, 2012 Sony World Photography Awards.
Photographer Simon Norfolk is a landscape photographer who has photographed some of the world’s worst war zones and refugee crises. His work has been published widely from the New York Times Magazine to The Guardian and his images are held in collections worldwide.
He is a busy man – last year was spent promoting and exhibiting his latest work, Burke + Norfolk, doing master classes and winning awards, including two nods the Sony World Photography Awards, winning the People category and getting a second place in Architecture, and being recognised at World Press Photo. D-Photo talks to Norfolk to find out more about his work and his thoughts on photography.
D-Photo: How did you get into photography?
Simon Norfolk: I had plans to become an academic but hated the idea of spending five years on a PHD which would be read by three people. For me, the only reason to take pictures is to change people’s opinions about the world – and if you want to change people’s opinions about the world there is no point being read by three people. Likewise, there is no point in having a clever artistic precedence if the language in which you talk about photography is so arcane and convoluted that no one can understand what you are saying.
Ever since I picked up a camera, it has not just been important how to make great work, but how do you persuade people that your idea is the right idea and how do you get them to understand it. This was true when I was an academic and true today when I talk about the war in Afghanistan. People don’t want to know about the war in Afghanistan but my job is to re-engage them, bring it back into the conversation.
Your work is often accompanied by essays, why is this?
The interplay between word and picture is very important. I am happy to use seduction and the sucker punch as a tool – you come look at a beautiful picture and then you read the caption and it is like a slap in the face. For me, these are a tactical approaches. By tactically producing a picture which is very beautiful it makes you think once again about Afghanistan. I think it is important that we need to think about this subject now.
You have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, why do you choose to photograph there?
That question is bizarre because what else should I be photographing? I think the war in Afghanistan underpins everything that is going on in the world. Photography is a powerful tool but like a lot of powerful tools it is easy to waste it. Photography is worth more than this and if you can’t do something useful with it then you should shut up. I am using it to get people to re-engage with Afghanistan.
You consciously changed your career from photojournalism to landscape photography. Why move from photojournalism to express your ideas?
My turn towards landscape photography was about re-engaging an audience. I found that the language of photojournalism was very simplistic – very powerful and direct but a very yes/no language and I don’t have a yes/no answer to the war in Afghanistan. It is far more complicated.
Landscape photography is a metaphor and the subtlety of using this metaphor for talking about humanity. The idea of going via the metaphor of landscape was a way of pushing into a more layered, subtler conversation about the political issues which I was talking about.
Did the change in photography style also coincide with the politicisation of your work?
I only take photographs because I am interested in politics and because I want to change the world. I am not interested in art, photography or building a career for myself.
I want to contribute to the political conversation and, as a white man from England with a British passport, I have the opportunity to be articulate. If people like me don’t speak up then there will be no speaking. You can’t ask someone in a refugee camp in Rwanda to speak about his world – he is too busy fighting for his life. I would like Afghans to talk about what is happening in Afghanistan but the problem is as much being created by the people in my country as it is by the people in their country. Therefore I feel I have the right to talk about it and feel obliged to do so.
One of the nicest things about the Sony World Photography Awards is that it does invite applications for free from around the world – if you are a photographer in Rwanda put your best pictures into the competition and I hope you win!
Your series “10 years on after the war in Afghanistan” won the People category of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. The pictures are juxtaposed with those of photographer John Burke. How did you discover these images?
I am a trustee at the National Media Museum in Bradford and the librarian knew I was an Afghanistan geek and in a tea break he asked whether I had ever seen a John Burke portfolio. It was just an album on a shelf, undigitized and unrecorded. How marvellous that something can sit mute on a shelf for 130 years and suddenly step out and have a second life. John Burke died in 1900 forgotten and ignored. I have made it my mission over the last two years to get his memory restored.
It wasn’t that John Burke was just the first photographer in Afghanistan, I think he is the greatest war photographer you have never heard of. By placing my pictures side by side with Burke’s is not only historically interesting but it instantly kicks me into a conversation about how this has all be seen before. The arrogance of empire, that’s what I want to talk about. This technique instantly puts you into a much more interesting, subtle and layered conversation about history repeating itself.
You’ve won many award commendations and been recognised internationally for your work. What advice would you give other photographers wanting to enter competitions?
You need to ask if your work is brave. Make me care. If you don’t care that much then I won’t care either.
Take a risk otherwise your pictures will come across as cold. This doesn’t necessarily mean dodging bullets, the risk can be emotional or technical. I see too many recreations, shots in studios and images pulled off Google Earth from young photographers. These are bloodless, they are not interesting. You need to have fire in your belly and my advice to young photographers is to show me heart.
What is your next project?
I will spend a lot of 2013 in Afghanistan. I have some ideas about what to photograph but I am going there to recce and research, to see what is realistic.
For further information about Simon Norfolk and his images visit www.simonnorfolk.com and if you would like to enter the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards go to www.worldphoto.org.
Images: Top two - Simon Norfolk, UK, Professional Architecture, 2nd, 2012 Sony World Photography Awards. Bottom two - Simon Norfolk, UK, Professional People, Winner, 2012 Sony World Photography Awards.
The photographic landscape can seem a daunting and confusing space for an emerging photographer, but at the same time students now have access to technology and resources previously unheard of. Young photographer Asef Ali Mohammad, winner of the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards Student Focus competition, shares his views on the situation with D-Photo:
It’s often said that now is the hardest time to be a photographer – the challenge of being commercially successful is greater than ever and the internet provides photo editors with all the free images they could ever need, so where does an emerging photographer fit in? Also, with the revolution in digital imaging equipment meaning that you no longer need to spend hours in a dark room to get one print, is it still worthwhile studying photography?
As someone who is just starting out in their photography career, this is difficult to hear. And actually, I disagree. I think now is the most exciting time to be a photographer.
It is clichéd to say that I have always been into photography, but I have been. I like the quirky nature and the variety it can offer. Prior to studying photography formally I would travel to cities around the world to capture their environments. I had great ideas but as I was the only viewer, I was never sure if my work was technically or aesthetically good. Would my images be compelling enough outside of my darkroom?
When I moved to London I thought that I should study something that would make my family proud, so I went to Middlesex University to do a business degree. However, I quickly realised that I could never commit to the course so changed to photography after just a few weeks.
I am now a photography masters student and think that formal education of the subject is important. The training has given me confidence to make cohesive stories out of the pictures I shoot and the frequent critiques you receive are invaluable.
Of course there are self-taught photographers working for National Geographic who have never had a lesson, but I think studying the subject broadens your horizons. It gives you access to a wide network of materials and people and provides a stimulus to keep shooting. For me, it has made my approach to photography both disciplined and organised.
It has also made me aware of the challenges ahead.
The outside world is tough when you have to face commercial clients and send work out endlessly to magazines for publication. As a new photographer you are up against people who have been in the business for years with much stronger portfolios and yet even they are struggling to get their work published. How do I get my portfolio noticed, make it stand out from the crowd?
When my series of shots from Afghanistan were published in News Week two years ago, it was a one-off thing. My photos suited their words and they simply needed a photo essay to illustrate them. So then how do you get your work published as an emerging photographer? Students tend to produce personal projects, often about their past relationships, and although they can be amazing, why would a commercial client be interested? It’s not work that can be published on a daily basis and, ultimately, you need to work out what will make you money.
Magazines don’t have an open brief, their next edition could be about Hurricane Sandy and if you don’t have those images the editors won’t be interested – you have to fit their brief, not the other way around. I feel magazines often just need pictorial material – they don’t necessarily care who you are as a photographer – so you have to second-guess what they want and stay ahead of the game.
Another challenge is that selling an image involves much more than presenting just a good picture – a strong portfolio is no longer enough. A curator or photo editor wants to know if you have won awards, been published or exhibited elsewhere, and multi-media elements are often expected of your work. So how do you get noticed in such a competitive field?
I think entering competitions needs to be a daily part of the photographer’s life. Winning the Student Focus competition at the Sony World Photography Awards has given me exposure I could only dream of. On the back of the win, Middlesex University gave me a scholarship to do my photography MA. Without the Student Focus title I would be just another graduate photographer, with it I hope I am on route to becoming a commercially successful photographer.
Asef Ali Mohammad, aged 27, is the winner of the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards Student Focus competition. For further details about the Student Focus programme or to enter the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards go to www.worldphoto.org.
Photographers interested in entering either the Professional or Open categories, with top awards of US$25,000 and US$5000, respectively, will need to have the submissions in to the organisation no later than 11.59pm (GMT), January 4, 2012.
A respected industry panel, including curator and writer Susan Bright and Jon Jones, Director of Photography for the Sunday Times Magazine, will judge the entries.
All shortlisted and finalist images will be exhibited at the World Photo event in at Somerset House and the winners will go on to be shown around the globe.
The competition has been a significant launch pad for many past winners, including this year’s L’Iris d’Or winner, Argentinean Alejandro Chaskielberg.
“The Sony World Photography Awards has had an important effect on my career, and since winning the award my work has been published worldwide,” says Chaskielberg.
New Zealand is no stranger to the competition, below are some examples of kiwi images submitted for the 2012 event – for more info on submitting check the competition website.
Like Kiwi sportspeople, Kiwi sports photographers can mix it with the best of them, with local shooter Scott Barbour being named on the shortlist for the 2010 Sony World Photography Awards in the Professional Sport category.
Barbour has previously shot for Getty , and the photographer joins 189 other photographers from 48 different countries competing for the L’Iris D’Or, all in the running to win $25,000 and professional Sony equipment.
Simply making it to the shortlist is an achievement in itself, as the 190 lucky (and talented) photographers were chosen from a pool of 37, 617 professional and 43, 745 amateur photography submissions.
“As in past years, the sheer number of entries from across the globe overwhelms us and reminds us of how universal photography is as a creative expression,” said Astrid Merget, Creative Director of the World Photography Organisation. “We are thrilled to see the quality of entries once again heighten and even more pleased to see many returning photographers on the shortlist.”