What is ‘good’ photography? It can be very subjective, but these jurors’ picks give us some insight into how that question is answered.

Miami Night-Urban Cinema, Erika Anna Schumacher, LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2020. (Erika Anna Schumacher)

There is no shortage of photography contests out there. And almost every time results are announced it’s followed by spirited debates on various social media platforms about the merits, or lack of, of the work that was christened with awards. This makes sense, of course, because determining what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is an inherently subjective process. One group may like a certain kind of work while another doesn’t. It’s human nature. Debate is a good thing.

As for me, I don’t generally like to enter the fray in any other way than just chatting with my friends about these things. But the funny thing about that is most of my friends have left the field of photography and aren’t really all that interested anymore! C’est la vie.

For today’s post, I want to highlight some of the winners of Lensculture’s Street Photography Awards 2020, but with a little twist. When the head of Lensculture, Jim Casper, reached out to me and sent over the materials for the winners, as I perused them I was struck by a section of the announcement highlighting the jurors’ picks. Unless you happen to be present while awards are being judged (or you can tune in via streaming video), you don’t always get to hear straight from the judges. I find that it is not only interesting to get that perspective, but it also gives greater in sight into the the whole process of determining what is ‘good.’

It's worth your time to take a look at all of this year’s winners and not just the jurors’ picks. You can see the entire list of winners, here. But let’s take a look at the images this years jurors chose to talk about.

We’ll begin with Jim Casper, Editor-in-Chief of Lensculture. His pick is the one at the top of this article. It is a photograph by Erika Anna Schumacher, from Germany. It is a colorful street scene from a rainy night from a series of photographs. Here are Casper’s thoughts about the image, “Erika Anna Schumacher has captured night scenes in Miami with a distinctive cinematic style — color street photographs that shimmer with gloss, as if every surface is glowing with the reflection of neon or theatrical stage lighting. Each image vibrates with the energy of high expectations for a charged-up night on the town. It feels like the stage is set for action.”

The next pick comes from juror Joel Meyerowitz, one of the most significant street photographers living today. He picked this photo from Francesco Gioia, a photographer from the United Kingdom. It’s a slightly surreal street scene that is packed with details, some tragic, some comic. Here’s what Meyerowitz said about the image, “This photograph is a remarkably well framed and finely observed moment. A real street photographer’s understanding of timing, the frame, and being ‘in the moment’ with what was going on. It has the incredibly rich feeling of being seen for its overall and integrated moment, which Francesco was in harmony with. He saw it all and made a tough and beautiful photograph.”

The next juror’s pick comes from Ihiro Hayami, Director, T3-Tokyo International Photo Festival. Hayami’s choice comes from Gala Font De Mora Marti, of Spain. Marti’s photo is from a series on drive-in theaters and Hayami says, “Gala Font de Mora Marti’s series captures people immersed in a film at a drive-in theatre and their surrounding environment. Ominous image are shown on the screen while the people are watching them from a safe environment. Gala’s images are quiet, mysterious and intimate moments portraying a disappearing culture. They can be interpreted differently with the current situation we are all in.”

Next up is a brooding street scene from China, made by Kai Heng Guan, of China. Jerome Huffer, Head of Photo Depertment, Paris Match in France selcted this image. Huffer explains why, saying, “This picture could be a grab from a movie. Kai was able to show us an interaction that might not even exist in reality. Nevertheless, we’re asking ourselves immediately, do they know each other? Are they angry with each other? Are the white teddies involved? From two random guys crossing the street we all create a scenario in our minds. In mine, the man on the front is a detective investigating a missing child, keeping his suspect under his watch. That’s trivial, but this is also the beauty of this medium. Photographers are storytellers and the streets are such a great playground.”

The next selection comes from Amy Silverman, a photo editor and producer who has worked with Airbnb, Wired and Outside Magazine. Her pick is from photographer Max Sturgeon, of the United States. It’ a colorful and somewhat whimsical photo of a boy and what appear to be flying fish. Here’s what Silveran said about it, “I love the fleeting moment that is captured here. It’s impossible to know exactly what is happening but speaks to a scene where the boy is obviously very comfortable and in his element. His knowing glance and the arrangement of the fish in the air makes it look like he magically planned the whole thing.”

This photograph by Meysam Hamrang of Iran was selected by Andreas Trampe, Senior Picture Editor, Stern Magazine. Trampe’s pick is a stark, multi-layered and somewhat mysterious black and white photo. Here’s what Trampe had to say about it, “This is an extremely beautiful photograph. Life has composed it and Meysam was able to freeze the situation forever, as he was in the right place at the right time. As the viewer I ask myself, where are the women? What are the many men looking at? Many of the jurors rated the picture highly, and while it did not win a top prize in the end, it has immediately made me curious about the Meysam’s work.”

Whitney Johnson, VP, Visuals and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic selected this photograph by Panama’s Sofia Verzbolovskis. Verzbolovskis’s photo of awoman in blue is magnified by a clean whitish background and feels very painterly. Johnson says this of the photo, “The central framing of the figure and the tight cropping of the structure behind gives this image a formality which belies the spontaneity of the moment. For Sofia Verzbolovskis, a Panamanian photographer based in New York City, the street is a stage where elements of architecture, light, and color form a set for daily life. In this image, it is the momentary connection that makes the connection, achieved through gesture and a look.”

Finally, Craig Allen, International Photo Editor, The New York Times, chose this photo by Wenpeng Lu, of France, from a series of images. Lu’s photo is a vibrant, strongly saturated and colorful street composition. And here’s what Allen had to say about his selection, “The entry contained some of the strongest traditional street photography in the entire competition. If I could, I would pull this photograph out as a single and nominate it instead, as it has everything I look for in street photography: a moment in time never to be repeated, shown from a well-developed aesthetic point of view. Although I do like the photographer’s technique, to me the series relies a little much on deep shadows and I would prefer to have seen a little more variety in lighting conditions. But on the whole the series is very well done - playful, interesting and dynamic and something that a viewer can find new details in upon each viewing.”

It would be interesting to see more of this kind of delving into the minds of jurors on the various contests out there. One thing is for sure though, with or without it, there will always be a spirited debate on what makes something an award winner or not. One thing that we should all strive for, though, is a diversity of opinions from people across all spectrums of life. That won’t stymie debate but contribute in a more equitable way to the conversation that has always been ongoing.

Again, you can take a look at all of the winners, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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