Best of bothworlds Run by the World Photography Organisation (WPO), the SonyWorld Photography Awards (SWPA) attracts some of the most talented up-and-coming photographers from around the world. Managing director Scott Gray gives us a peek into the inner workings of the competition
Interview by Megan Croft
How was the SWPA conceived? Theoriginal concept was formed in2005when I was discussing potential events to be held in Cannes. I was looking into specific areas within the industry and looking at who the best photographers were. Naturally, it was easy to find a list of the greatest and most iconic photographers, but I couldn’t find the current stars and the hottest prospects emerging within the various disciplines. There were plenty of awards out there such as the fantastic World Press Photo or specific national awards focusing on nature and wildlife for example, but there wasn’t an award that set a true international benchmark across all disciplines from fine art to reportage and was welcoming to both established professionals and emerging enthusiasts. Having formed the idea, I started to build the foundations of the programme and then went to speak with the major camera manufacturers. Sony absolutely understood the project immediately and shared my passion for encompassing both a professional award and one for amateur enthusiasts as well as reaching out to students. Together we launched the first award which ran in 2008 and Sony has partnered it ever since. I run the business and try and steer it in a direction that genuinely works for the industry and truly supports the photographers that engage with the programme. I do however have an absolutely amazing team of people that work at the WPO; they are all terrific and care passionately about the photographers and photography. We all work towards building the programmes under the WPO umbrella, developing them further and trying to reach more photographers in more markets whilst celebrating photography and encouraging more people to engage with it. Where can we see the final exhibition? We promote the winning photographers through all our channels across the world, from Canada to Australia, so it has quite a remarkable reach. The main exhibition of winners is shown in London at Somerset House, from 1 May through to 18 May. We then showcase the work in various places across the world, throughout the year. Can you give us an insight into your role as managing director of the competition? How much has the competition grown since its founding year? We had 70,575 entries in our first year and this year the awards welcomed 139,554 entries from 166 countries. Whilst we have almost doubled the number, the biggest difference is the quality, not
ABOVE Sean Batten’s image took first place
just amongst the winners, but the strength in depth of the shortlisted and commended photographers. We receive a staggering number of photographs from all four corners of the world resulting in a wonderful collection to choose from, ensuring that the winning images offer such huge diversity. What have been the significant changes within SWPA since it began? Over the years we have tried to refine the competition structure, make it more accessible and easier for people to engage with. The fourth year saw us move the main awards night from Cannes to London but the main changes have really been in the activation of the awards and winners. We now do so many more initiatives around the world with local Sony offices, from exhibitions to workshops, which see a wider promotion of the programme and the photographers themselves. How is SWPA’s judging panel selected? The WPO’s creative director Astrid Merget selects the jury each year. She looks to choose a jury that
has representatives fromthe commercial, reportage and fine art fields as well as representatives of the world with judges from Latin America, Asia, Europe and America. How do the judges go about narrowing down the submissions? The pre-screening starts immediately after the competition closes and the final stages see the judges locked away in meeting rooms for four days deliberating and discussing the various work. They are split into groups focusing on the areas that they are best qualified to judge. Selecting category winners presents difficulties but the criteria remain the same. The judges always do an incredible job and each year they are absolutely committed to looking at everything that is there and selecting images, which, as a group, they think offer something special and unique. The competition categories are so varied it must be difficult to select an overall winner. How do the judges go about this? The final day sees the judges all come together to choose the overall winner from the professional category winners. I think it is an increasingly difficult task and generally takes three to four hours as the various judges fight for their choices – it is a fascinating discussion!
in the SWPA UK National Award.
Photographyhas the ability to really capture an emotion and transport a spectator in an instant; to really engagewith a viewer and evoke a response
Photography News | Issue 7
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